12 Must-have Tools for a PhD

Akshika Wijesundara, PhD
4 min readOct 31, 2021
Image credits: The Open University, UK

A PhD can be quite stressful at times and it is a long-term process. Therefore, finding out different tools that may support your journey will be quite beneficial to your efficiency and to your mental health. This blog post lists out 12 tools that I have used throughout my PhD and their use cases to my PhD.

  1. Zotero helps you to save the papers that you find on the internet. It also helps you to keep an annotated bibliography. You have to read around 300–500 papers during your PhD (maybe more). Keeping track of these articles manually is a bit hard. Therefore, using a tool like Zotero would help you during the literature review and it will help you automatically generate your citation list when it is time to write the thesis. Mendeley is another similar tool.
  2. Google account provides you with multiple benefits. Out of those Google Drive can be used as your cloud server (15GB for free accounts) to save your documents; Google Sheets, Docs, and Slides are quick, easy and on the cloud tools as opposed to their Microsoft counterparts.
  3. Microsoft Office Suite provides a very robust toolset for creating long documents. Unless you are using Latex, Microsoft Word is a really good tool for writing your thesis and other scholarly articles.
  4. Dropbox is a cloud storage solution similar to Google Drive. However, this also provides the ability to edit your Microsoft office files on the browser. This feature is quite useful if you are using Microsoft tools and want to collaborate with your supervisors.
  5. Google Scholar is generally the go-to search tool for scholarly articles. This provides you with the ability to run advanced queries on their scholarly articles and provides a list of filters to better refine your results. Apart from this, there are other tools for literature surveys focused on computer science. For example dblp, ACM library, and Microsoft Academic.
  6. ConnectedPapers is a handy web tool that allows you to see how each paper is connected to other papers. This support tracking its past references and forward references. This also provides a nice visualisation of the connectivity of these other papers allowing us to better understand the domain and the impact of each paper on other papers.
  7. Publish or Perish is a similar tool to connected papers, however, you need to download it and use it. The tool retrieves and analyzes academic citations and provides a richer analysis of the citations. This is quite good for a systematic literature review.
  8. Notion is a multipurpose knowledge management tool. You are able to get a free tier with your University’s email address. It comes in handy if you want to take notes online, create a task manager, and any other knowledge management requirement. Even if you don’t have a requirement, do give Notion a try as it is awesome.
  9. Miro is an online collaboration tool that allows users to conduct shared brainstorming sessions on the cloud. Furthermore, this can be quite useful for individual use where you have to create mind-maps etc. I have also used Miro for my thematic analysis by porting all the themes from my Google Sheets to Miro. It is very intuitive to conduct this type of analysis on Miro. Another must-have (or at least try) tool.
  10. URL blocker is a must as you need to sometimes block certain websites when you are in the Deep Work mode. This helps to avoid any unconscious attempts to go to social media etc.
  11. A Pomodoro timer is a tool that helps to box out your working time to smaller intervals (ideally 25 minutes work time and a 5-minute break) in order to generate momentum and focus. You may get a browser extension or an app that runs locally.
  12. Git/Github is quite helpful to any kind of researcher to keep versions of their thesis and data. This is heavily used by programmers to keep track of code versions. However, Git/Github may also help a researcher to keep track of the progress of their thesis versions in a private repo (only you and your collaborator can see the content). You may commit as you go and you can easily revert to an earlier version of the thesis.

Bonus Tools to check out: Overleaf, Grammarly, Crossref, Draw.io, ChatGPT, Claude and RDF Planner

I have used many other tools but the aforementioned 12 tools were the most used. If you use any other tools, please feel free to comment them down as I would like to try them out. Thank you for reading :)

Connect with me on Twitter: akshikaw



Akshika Wijesundara, PhD

Data Scientist with expertise in computer science, healthcare, privacy, HCI, and growth