The first critical issue was organization. It became apparent very early that I need a way to keep track of what I was doing – projects, collaborations, readings, methods, data collection, analysis tools (scripts, tools, etc.), results, lessons learned, teaching material, thought and ideas, etc. etc. Almost every researcher I meet has a different way of going about it, some try to keep it all in their heads (don’t!), some maintain hand written notes and notebooks (don’t!), some rely on email, and some organize files and interactions on some local directory and apply a desktop search. All those methods have apparent severe flaws which I won’t go into, but suffice to say these were just not good enough for me. I needed one repository which has a clear and straightforward ways of organizing in which I can very easily edit, link between items and perform swift searches.
The second issue, less critical but still of essence, comes up when you start working with others and when you want to set things up so that your ideas and work can be replicated and built upon in the future. Sure, there are other ways to cooperate and coordinate, and I do use Google Docs with my collaborators and naturally emails will always be a part of that, but those things aren’t well structured and lack the logic I was looking for.
After some time playing around with different alternatives I was finally able to find a solution that works well for me – a Wiki. Seeing how Mypersonality and other large projects have been setup to share research, I decided to try and setup a Dokuwiki of my own as a subdomain to this blog – http://wiki.mgto.org . Right then and then I vowed to myself that I’ll try and put as much of what I do in there as use it as an everyday work tool :
- Every project I start.
- Every paper I read that I like is documented. Every paper that is relevant to a project goes into the relevant project with a quote.
- Every scale that I use I put down in there with the relevant SPSS syntax.
- Every idea that I have about a related study, I scribble it down in the related project page.
- Every researcher I come across whose work I like is added to a list of researchers to keep track of.
- Teaching and qualifying exams material are posted there and shared with students and interested others.
- Every mail or letter I write would go into a templates section.
- When informing others that I work with about what I’m doing, I would put it on the Wiki and send them a link.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Many of the researchers I talk to about this worry about over transparency and a possible case of plagiarism. What’s to stop someone from simple stealing my ideas, taking away my material, publishing my projects and data? Also, this allows others to see my mistakes and my preferences and as far as many are concerned – the less people know about that the better.
But, after giving this considerable thought I think that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. I could very well be proven wrong at some point, but till now visibility has brought me more collaborations, more interesting discussions that led to ideas, and has helped show that despite being a PhD student – I am working and I am making progress on interesting research projects. Even if at the end of my PhD I have zero publications, this wiki has a lot for my future employers to see and learn from about who I am and how I work that might make up for a lacking publication record.
Convinced? Doing things different? What’s your way?