The 10 phone apps I use the most in grad school

In my pre-smartphone days, I had a pretty casual relationship with my mobile device. Five years ago, I would keep my cell phone in my out-of-the-lab locker when I was at work, and would only check my messages during my breaks – if I even did check them, and there are more days than I can remember where I would only take a look when I was done for the day. In contrast, my (smart)phone is with me almost everywhere nowadays, and I carry it in my back pocket when I work in the lab – although I do make sure to take off my lab gloves if I’m going to touch my phone (as Yogita pointed out, lab safety is important!)

For good or ill, my phone has become a kind of external brain – and if I’m going to 1) pay that much for a piece of technology and 2) be borderline dependent on it, I might as well put it to good use! So here are the apps I use the most in grad school:

  1. The default clock app that came with my phone
    • I can use it to set alarms (useful to remind myself of recurring events, like weekly seminar series or meetings), to set timers (always useful in the lab – especially if I sit down at my computer while doing an incubation, I tend to lose track of time in front of the screen), I use the stopwatch function to keep track of how long I actually spend on tasks (like reading the literature), and the world clock tool is useful to figure out when meetings with collaborators in other time zones are actually happening.

      Behold! This is what the timer looks like
  2. Toggl
    • This app allows me to track how much time I actually spend on various tasks (such as Reading the literature, engaging in Presentation prep or LAB TIME), or on various projects in my life. It allows me to assess at a glance how I spend my time, both in and out of the lab.

      Yes I chose this week because it's the last one where I exercised for more than 2 hours total
      An example of a weekly report Toggl can generate
    • I find it especially helpful to keep track of how much time I actually spend working on grad school or related projects. Based on my own experience, 30-45 hours a week of grad school-related work is the sweet zone for me to feel productive, and if I go above 55-60 hours a week I get irritable, make more mistakes than usual and start feeling a little burnt out.
  3. The default Camera app that came with my phone
    • I do a lot of Western blots in the lab, and a step of my data collection pipeline is to take pictures of these blots.
    • I could use the departmental scanner to get that data, but my phone camera actually has a higher resolution.
  4. Dropbox
    • Related to #3 – I need to get those Western pictures from my phone to my computer. People who only have Apple products might be able to use iCloud for this, but my phone is a Samsung and my computer is an Apple product – they don’t play nice. Using Dropbox is easier than trying to sync the two devices directly.
  5. Google Calendar
    • I use calendars for all kinds of things, from planning my own day to booking common lab equipment (like our tissue culture hoods).
    • I guess you can now all see on what day I wrote this post
  6. Outlook
    • I sometimes want to check my McGill email on my phone, but I do keep notifications turned off.
  7. Pocket Casts ($)
    • I listen to a lot of podcasts, both in and out of the lab. It does cost money, but I was more than willing to pay a little to have an app without ads.
  8. Overdrive
    • I LOVE this app. I use it to connect to my public library account and borrow audiobooks and ebooks – all for free!
  9. Instagram
    • Because sometimes you want to take a break and see what the world – and the GradLife Instagram team – is up to 🙂
  10. AppDetox
    • This is actually the best app of them all because I it helps me limit how much I use apps on my phone.

      I am a little embarrassed about the number of times I mindlessly checked Gmail, but not embarrassed enough to alter this picture.
    • For example, I have blocked everything but the Weather Network app between midnight and 8 am (so that I don’t mindlessly scroll on my phone when I need to get out of bed in the morning). I have put limits on how often I can check my emails every hour (so that I don’t just mindlessly refresh my inbox). I have also put limits on how long I can spend on each social network app each day (so that I don’t literally spend hours on Twitter).
    • Still, if I ever need to make an exception to any rule for any reason, it’s easy to disable yet inconvenient enough that it helps me put my phone down.

How about you? Do you have any favourite apps that improved your grad school experience?

Banner picture by TheDigitalWay

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