If you are pursuing or even considering pursuing a PhD, you know the commitment and workload that comes with it. For me, reading and writing isn’t the hardest part. The Lord has been good to bless me with a relatively strong ability to read, process what I read, and write it (mostly) coherently. I also have a family who supports me, which apparently is rare.
Instead, I’ve struggled with the logistics of preparation and research. What tools should I use to store notes, keep up with things-to-read-later, and track my progress so that I don’t get behind? When have I read too much or too little of something? Which resources should I skim and which should I digest? These are ongoing struggles that I’m hoping to improve on, but haven’t found any magic bullets for yet.
Two other obstacles have been finding and sharing academic resources, and the herculean task of learning German. Here are two tools that have made my PhD life easier on these fronts.
At the beginning of July, I deleted all of my social media accounts. Of all the good that has come from that decision—and it’s a lot of good—I’ve mostly missed sharing and finding ideas, articles, and resources. Twitter was especially helpful in instantly being able to work out ideas that weren’t fully developed, and for watching others discuss topics I was interested in.
While I’ll not be re-joining social media anytime soon, Academia.edu has been a helpful tool to find and share resources related to my PhD. In fact, it’s been better than Twitter ever was, because it’s more specialized and focused on academic research, and it’s super simple to navigate to topics you’re interested in.
I’ve been using my Academia.edu account for less than two weeks, and I’ve already received helpful feedback on my PhD thesis overview (which I posted here), interacted with a few senior scholars who are interested in what I’m researching, and found loads of helpful articles that directly pertain to my research. I had heard of Academia.edu for years, and I wish I had taken advantage of it a long time ago.
One of the most terrifying assignments my primary supervisor, Michael Bird, gave me was this: “Whatever it takes, you need to learn German and learn it fast.” For anyone pursuing a PhD, research languages seem like hoops to jump through, but they actually make you a better researcher and scholar if you’re willing to do the work. Since my PhD focus is theology and New Testament, I can’t afford to avoid the massive contribution German scholars made to both fields in the 20th century. Some of this work has been translated into English, but much of it hasn’t. Once I realized the importance of learning German (I was skeptical at first), I then had to determine how I could possibly become serviceable at German in the next year or so.
At lunch with a friend recently, I was lamenting this very problem. Should I take a month-long trip to Germany and immerse myself? That wasn’t going to happen. Maybe I hire a German nanny and not allow her to speak English around me. That wasn’t financially or logistically feasible. It would also be kind of weird. My friend then told me what he’s been using—the Duolingo app.
This app is extremely user-friendly, allows you to set daily goals, and is actually fun to use. It contains a massive database of languages, and German just happens to be one of them! Also, it walks you through the language in an order that makes sense. It doesn’t want you to skip around—it has a well-planned map to help you incrementally build your knowledge of the language. Each exercise uses different types of learning methods—typing out a phrase or sentence after hearing it, matching German and English words, voice dictation to help learn pronunciation, and more. I do this 5-10 minutes per day, and regularly go back and practice what I’ve learned in the review portions. It’s not time-consuming, cumbersome, or annoying. This app is a must-have, in my opinion, and is the best language-learning tool I’ve ever used.