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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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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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