5 useful apps every PhD student can’t live without

If you’re a PhD student, time might always feel scarce. However, with the right resources, your journey could be smoother.

By Shekinah Kannan 

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A typical university students’ life revolves around rigorous exams, assignments, long reading lists to go through, and lots of note-taking. A PhD, on the other hand, is a lot more gruelling and demanding than an undergraduate or master’s course.

For starters, the programme can last between three and six years. Doctoral students may find themselves spending their time working on publications, presentations, proposal submissions, and conducting studies. Many also teach, mentor juniors, or partake in peer review work. 


There’s also data collecting, research collaboration, and journal reading, making time management an essential skill for any student to ensure they complete their programme on time.

If you need some help from technology to stay on top of things, here are some apps that might come in handy:

For effective note-taking

What is the best way of taking notes for your PhD? Evernote is one of the best apps a grad student could have to organise and store critical information in one place. 

Within the app, searches can be conducted easily, notes can be synced across devices, and its built-in organisation system is highly effective. There’s even an audio recorder for those who prefer recording lectures or seminars.

A quicker way to find references

Any researcher, seasoned or new, will get a headache from staring at a mile long list of references. A good way to avoid bibliographic burnout? Mendeley.

This free reference manager is great for PhD students as it automatically generates bibliographies as users write. It even helps them find papers relevant to their subjects, which means students could benefit from spending less time referencing, and more time drafting. 

Avoid distractions

Picture sitting at your desk with disorganised papers and opened books sprawled across your desk. You’re ready to start writing the next bit of your dissertation on your laptop but you can’t stop staring at the bird on the window. To shift your focus, you pick up your phone and start scrolling through Facebook’s endless news feed. 

A good way for grad students to avoid wasting time in these situations is with Forest. This mobile app and browser extension for Chrome and Firefox gamifies focus. They do this by rewarding 25 minutes of uninterrupted work with a virtual tree. If you stay focused for longer periods, you could grow a whole forest. Leave the app, and your tree will downsize back to a seedling.

What’s more, you’ll be studying for a good cause. Growing trees rewards users with virtual coins that can be spent to plant real trees via charity group Trees for the Future. 


Manage your time by managing your tasks

Every studying researcher has 1,001 things to do in a day. To keep track, a good task management app is crucial. There are tons to choose from, but Trello is one of the best for several reasons.

This app allows users to create visual work boards and fill them up with tasks, assign deadlines, make updates, and more. You could also share your boards with collaborators or supervisors to make the team work easier. 

Unwind, document, and reflect

A daily journal is a great way to help you organise your thoughts and keep a clear mind. This will allow you to feel more at ease amidst the hustle and bustle of obtaining a PhD. Day One’s beautiful interface and other features help make daily journaling a habit you’ll want to keep.

The app is free of distractions, which will help you focus on specific thoughts. Journal entries support the powerful Markdown language. Entries are also easy to organise as users can browse through calendar, timeline, maps, or photos.

What’s more, metadata from your iPhone can bring each entry to life with other information such as temperature, weather, and music played on a certain day. It’s also safe — there’s a passcode and Face/Touch ID support.