Academic House Cleaning


Around our house, the weekend usually means catching up. There is catching up on sleep, downtime and relaxing, exercise and getting outside, and, of course, chores. I’ve heard about those super-organised people who do their house cleaning on a weeknight so they can leave the weekend free for other, more fun things. It seems like a great plan but it isn’t one that we’ve managed to institute. And although we do a lot of maintenance through the week, we definitely need to take some time out to give the place a once over on the weekend.

Coming off of the past weekend got me thinking about my academic chores, and whether I should start having a ‘chore day’ there too. I’m partly inspired by my decision to clean up my reference files and pdfs. I’m starting a few review/meta-analyses projects with collaborators and it seems like a good time to get my house in order. When I started doing research, my advisor shared Endnote with me. Also a research assistant, I remember doing some cleaning up my advisors references. I think I was ensuring that the filing cabinet (a literal physical cabinet) had all the references that were in Endnote and vice versa. Modeling after that system, I started my own collection of printed pdfs. Somewhere in the course of my PhD, I stopped printing out files and instead read them on my computer. By that time, I never (rarely) needed to make the trip to the library to photocopy anything. When I moved to Sweden, I finally let go and recycled the alphabetized pdfs I’d carried from Vancouver to Guelph to Ithaca.

Right now my system for pdfs and citations needs an overhaul. I have many pdfs saved to a single folder and it is easy to find one, if it is indeed there. But some things existed as printouts (now recycled) and I haven’t downloaded them. Or I did, but didn’t save it to the master folder. Without going into too many boring details about my citations (or maybe I already crossed that line?), I’ve decided that now is the time to clean up the whole system.

For now, I’m linking pdfs to citations in Endnote and discussing with my collaborators what we should use to facilitate database use across Mac and PC. I might be behind the curve on this one but my aim is to have one place that I can go to search citations, link to the pdf and use for writing manuscripts. Right now it is a chore I’m doing in the evenings or when my brain has slowed down and more creative/thinking things are not efficient. The activity is strongly reminiscent of helping my advisor as an undergraduate assistant. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson from that! But unfortunately the Endnote version I started with didn’t have an option to link pdfs and there has never been a good time update by adding links….so here I am. I’d like to get to a state where I can just maintain my library  (as I’d been attempting), but I might need a spring-cleaning every now and again.

Cleaning up my pdfs and citation software is just one example of an academic chore. I know labs that have lab clean-up events and there are a lot of other little tasks that need doing as an academic. I’ve mostly been cleaning up as I go but I’m starting to consider whether I should have a ‘chore day’. Of course, this wouldn’t be a whole day or anything but maybe a good thing to do Friday afternoon after the departmental fika (Swedish for coffee break). At home, I know that even though we clean up through the week, without setting aside time to do laundry, pick up those things that got left out and whatnot, our house would quickly descend into a place we wouldn’t want to live. Sometimes my desktop (literal and computer) gets so piled up with things that it is impossible to find anything. I don’t have my own lab space these days so it is important to ensure that things in the common area get cleaned up right after use. But I wonder about getting in the habit of doing some chores every week for the other aspects of my job; cleaning up my desktops, emptying out my download folder, organising my inbox, etc. Maybe if I set aside time each week, I wouldn’t get into a state where a real overhaul is necessary. Although I am pretty good at keeping most things organised, it would even better if more things were.

Fig. 1 My messy desk and full download folder.

Fig. 1 My messy desk and full download folder.

Do you have a weekly routine for academic chores? Overall I suspect that it may make me more efficient at my job but there is the balance of not getting too caught up with chores and doing those little tasks instead of the big ones, like writing a paper or grant. I don’t want academic chores to just be a form of procrastination for getting ‘real’ work done!

5 thoughts on “Academic House Cleaning

  1. I like to use Mendeley as a way to keep all of my pdfs organized and accessible. It has a great desktop application for mac and pc that you can use to organize pdfs into different folders, manage citations, and read articles. An added benefit is that Mendeley also has an online “social networking” component and you can actually share folders between individuals. So, if you are working on a paper with a group of collaborators you could keep all of the papers you cite in a single folder that is shared with all members of the group. You can also have Mendeley keep all pdf files in a single folder (together or with subfolders) so you can also keep doing what you have been doing. I also like that there is a MS Word plugin that makes it pretty simple to insert citations and compile bibliographies while writing (you can also export to bibtex).

  2. Give zotero a try – works very well for me and you can share databases (not a function I use). Free, stable.

  3. Amy, what desk is that? I’ve been looking for a large, deep desk like that for when I am done with the long road trip we are on. I run large dual monitors and will probably use three in the future is why I am curious, mainly. That desk looks perfect for me.

  4. Hi Mike, It is basically the desk type available in my department so I have no idea! But I do really like it (and it changes between sitting and standing). I can ask the grounds staff if you’re really interested but I am guessing that you might need to search in your own area…just send me a message if you want me to track it down.

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