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The Ultimate Student Resource List

The Ultimate Student Resource List
Ultimate Student Resource List

    It’s back to school time, yet again.  In the spirit of the season, I decided to gather together the best tools, websites, and advice I know of to help make you a more effective and relaxed student this semester. Since I know you’re broke, it’s all free!

    10 Free Applications Every Student Needs

    Unless you have money coming out of your ears, you probably won’t want to shell out the cash you’ll need to get Office, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, EndNote, and so on — even with your student discount. These free apps do the job well enough, and sometimes even better than their paid or otherwise limited alternatives.

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    • OpenOffice.org: A top-quality, full-featured office productivity suite — word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, graphics editor, database, the works! Can save and open most Microsoft Office formats. If you have MS Works on your PC, ditch it and get OpenOffice.org instead. Available for most operating systems.
    • GIMP: A powerful, full-featured photo editing program, comparable to Photoshop. Available for Linux, Mac, and Windows.
    • KeyNote: Even after 2 1/2 years of being abandoned by its developer, KeyNote (not the Mac presentation software) remains the best free outlining software, with support for rich text formatting, plugins and macros, hotkeys, and a lot more. Can be run from a flash drive, too.
    • FreeMind: Great mindmapping program, useful for brainstorming, outlining projects, and keeping notes.
    • Mozy Backup: An Internet-based backup system, Mozy’s free plan allows you to store up to 2GB of files. The software runs in your system tray and automatically backs up the folders and files you’ve selected. I have it set to backup my documents folder and my email, which comes in just under 2GB. To backup photos, music, and other big files, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid version.
    • Zotero: A bibliography manager that integrates with Firefox, allowing you to automatically add webpages and, more usefully, resources from academic databases like J-Stor and AnthroSource to your bibliography. You can attach PDFs and images to your entries, as well as add your own notes. And all without leaving Firefox.
    • NVU: Mozilla’s web editor, NVU allows you to write webpages either in raw code or using the WYSIWYG interface, making webpage creation simple. UPDATE: NVU is no longer in development; the current version is called Kompozer.
    • VLC: The VideoLan Client isn’t pretty, but it will play just about any audio or video file you throw at it.
    • Pidgin: A single IM client that connects to just about every IM network: AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, MySpace, IRC, and so on. Available for Windows and Linux; Mac users can give Adium a try (I can’t vouch for it, since I haven’t used a Mac for 7 years…).

     

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    11 Online Tools Students Should Check Out

    Or 20, depending on how you count.

    • Email: Gmail
      Register for a solid, plain-jane email address from Gmail, something like FirstnameLastname@gmail.com. If your school sends important information only to your school email account, have it forwarded to your Gmail account. When you graduate, you’ll lose that school address — don’t invest too much of your social identity in an address you’ll lose someday. And while that .oOAwesomeChickOo.@goober.com email address seems like fun now, it won’t be much use he you start applying for internships, scholarships, and jobs.
    • Word Processor: Google Docs/Zoho Writer/Buzzword
      Online word processing offers solid features (minus a few bells and whistles you aren’t likely to need) with the ability to access your work from any web-connected computer. Google and Zoho lead the pack at the moment, though Buzzword’s gorgeous interface makes it a definite contender.
    • Spreadsheet: Google Docs/Zoho Sheet/EditGrid
      Again, Google and Zoho both offer strong online spreadsheets; if you’re using them for word processing, you might as well stick with them for spreadsheets. EditGrid’s emphasis on collaboration (they even have a FaceBook app) and strong feature-set make it well worth checking out.
    • Student Organizer: Notely/MyNoteIt/GradeMate
      Online organizers designed with students in mind, these services offer the ability to create, organize, and share notes, create reminders for important assignments, track grades and schedules, and generally keep on top of your student life.  Each offers a slightly different feature-set and approach to student organization; pick the one that fits you best.
    • Todo List: Toodledo/Remember the Milk
      Good, solid general-purpose task lists that allow you to sort tasks by date, priority, project, and just about any other way that strikes your fancy. Send yourself reminders by SMS, email, IM, or RSS.  Access on your computer or any web-enabled mobile device, even by voice using Jott. Integrate with GMail (Remember the Milk only), iGoogle, Google Calendar, and various other apps and services.
    • Mindmapping: Bubbl.us/Mindomo/Mind42/MindMeister
      Release your creativity and organize your thoughts using an online mindmapping tool. Collaborate with others and publish your mindmaps. Use to generate ideas for your papers and export in outline format.
    • Textbook Search: BookFinder
      Search over a hundred online bookstores for used or cheap copies of your required texts.
    • Bookmark Manager: del.icio.us
      Still the best place for storing, organizing, sharing, and discovering online resources.  Tag bookmarks with the name of each project you’re working on to create an online research reference. Tag by subject to recall possible topics for later papers.
    • Notebook: Google Notebook
      Use Google Notebook to keep track of pages, pictures, excerpts, and other material for papers and projects. Create a new notebook for each class or essay. Share resources by publishing your notebooks to the web.
    • WIki: PBWiki/WikiDot
      Another way to build and share resources like notes, collaborative papers, etc. Wikis offer incredible ease of use and are ideal for working with others.
    • Bibliography Creator: OttoBib
      Enter the ISBNs of all the books you used in a paper; OttoBib returns a perfectly formatted bibliography ready to cut and paste into your paper’s “Works Cited” page.

    15 Websites for Students (Aside from Lifehack)

    These sites are in the same vein as lifehack.org, but focus exclusively on student life and the needs of academics.

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    1. Study Hacks: The first stop in academic productivity, written by author Cal Newport (How to be a Straight-A Student).
    2. Academic Productivity: Three cognitive scientists share their insights into how productive researchers work.
    3. HackCollege: Cynical (in a fun way) and unabashedly anti-authoritarian, this site promises to teach students how to hack “the old” — professors and administrators.
    4. Mindful Ink: Review of tools and techniques for better studying.
    5. The University Blog: Study tips and higher education news and commentary from a avid student turned university administrator.
    6. That College Kid: Great tips and blogs from a on-the-ball college student.
    7. Gearfire: Billing itself as “Tips for Academic Success”, Gearfire offers a daily dose of practical advice, software reviews, and pointers to the latest online services for students.
    8. Instructify: Written by educators at the University of North Carolina, the intended audience is actually K-12 teachers — but most of the advice and tools they share apply to college students as well.
    9. Protoscholar: With the longest front-page I’ve ever seen, Protoscholar offers tips and advice in the GTD vein.
    10. The Student’s Blog: Backed by a student loan company, of all things, the Students’ Blog is packed full of great tips and advice for students.
    11. Scott H Young: Scott writes for lifehack.org, so you know what he’s about already. A college student himself, Scott’s advice comes from deep experience and reflection.
    12. Academic Lifehacker: Advice for students with an emphasis on time management and academic efficiency.
    13. Academhack: Focuses on the use of technology by students and academics, with news, reviews, and howtos.
    14. Efficient Academic: More tips, advice, and pointers to new technology from a working academic, with an emphasis on the sciences.
    15. Getting Things Done in Academia: Dr. Mike Kaspari offers the kind of advice about working habits, creativity, and ideas that most grad students are expected to know but are never taught.

    30 Pieces of Advice for Students from Lifehack.org

    Lifehack.org authors have published dozens of pieces with advice for students.  Here’s a good sampling:

    1. 11+ Ways to Make this Your Best Semester Yet
    2. Taking Notes that Work
    3. 10 Steps Toward Better Research
    4. Use a Wiki for Better Note-Taking
    5. : How to Read Like a Scholar
    6. How NOT to Plagiarize
    7. Beware of thesaurus
    8. Twenty uses for a Post-it Note
    9. Writing by hand
    10. Slow down and read
    11. How to Talk to Professors
    12. How to unstuff a sentence
    13. N’allez pas trop vite
    14. 10 Steps Toward Better Writing
    15. If you’d like help, ask
    16. Getting details right
    17. Homework-eating dogs, and how to avoid them
    18. 117 Creative Ways for Students to Pay for College
    19. 88 Tips for Succeeding in College
    20. From a freshman: Five tips for success in college
    21. 5 Things to Bring to College
    22. How to Write Research Papers that Rock
    23. How to Improve Your Spelling Skills
    24. How to Read a Painting
    25. 10 Steps Toward Better Writing
    26. Improve Your Writing with these Editing Tips
    27. Study Tip: Why Aiming for A is Better Than A+
    28. Learn Tough Stuff Faster
    29. How do I take notes on big books
    30. The New World of Today’s Student

     

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    7 Online Research Resources

    To help you get started with all your research projects:

    • WikiPedia/Citizendium: While neither online nor offline encyclopedias are suitable as references in college-level papers, they are great for looking up unfamiliar topics in a flash and for getting a good overview of your topic when starting a new research project. WikiPedia is well-established as the “go to” resource on the web; Citizendium is an upstart using hand-picked expert authors.
    • Library of Congress: Literally Congress’s library, the LOC’s website offers a wealth of primary sources, including historical documents and photos, artworks, letters, manuscripts, and more. Expecially good are their online exhibitions of art and artifacts around specific themes, people, and events, like the Civil War or Colonial America.
    • Google Books: A great way to locate books for research papers and other projects. Use “Advanced Book Search” and select “Full View” to limit your search to titles whose entire contents are available online. You can even download PDF facsimiles of some titles!
    • LitSum: Online study guides and book summaries
    • Artcyclopedia: One-stop shopping for information on virtually any artist, movement, national tradition, or anything else art-related.
    • Intute/InfoMine: Curated guides to scholarly resources available on the Internet.
    • Bartleby: A full reference library at your fingertips, with dictionaries, encyclopedias, poetry collections, and full versions of classic novels, philosophy, religious texts, science writings, and more.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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