Useful Apps

Handy Apps for Academics

by Veronika Schuchter


Here are some apps that I have found to make my PhD life easier over the years. I work on a Mac, so a few versions might be specifically only available on that platform but there should be Windows/Linux alternatives out there. Do let us know if you use such for your PC and we will update the list.

Dropbox / GoogleDrive / OneDrive

FREE // / /

There’s a wide range of online storage solutions available; I simply like having access to all of my (thesis) files from all of my devices. Personally I prefer Dropbox, but GoogleDrive gives you the most storage (15 GB) for free and OneDrive might come in handy if you already have an Exchange account through your uni for example. But mostly having some files in the cloud is to avoid scenarios such as the one I witnessed a couple of months ago in the library when a tearstained PhD student was desperately looking for her USB stick which apparently contained the only copy of her thesis (who does that?!).

Facebook Messenger


There are times when I want to access my Facebook messages but don’t want to be distracted by Facebook itself; a handy solution is to download a desktop app that let’s you read and send messages without having to access the Facebook page itself. I’ve found the one available through the link above to be the sleekest and most useful out there.



We all know that feeling: laptops overflowing with pdfs, ebooks and scans, all of them stored in a million different folders. Inspiration strikes suddenly and you desperately need that one quote but you’ve only brought your phone or tablet. Papers is a useful software that lets you store and organise all of your pdfs in one place and syncs across all of your devices.

You should read this fantastic blog post by Patt Thomson on PDF Alibi Syndrome and the pathological hoarding of digital files.



Free and easy photo-editing software, particularly great to edit, cut and enhance pictures for PowerPoint presentations.



You can read more about the Pomodoro technique in general here. I’ve found the timer with its 25-minute instalments particularly useful on days where I struggle with concentration, productivity and repeatedly keep getting interrupted by funny cat videos on the internet. There are many timer apps out there, I’ve found the one above to be the best one you can get for free.



An online app that allows you to organise and store your works cited; it let’s you easily and swiftly switch between citation styles as well. I am particularly in love with the phone app which lets you scan books’ ISBN codes and then converts them automatically to the bibliographical format of your choice. Absolute time saver!


FREE TRIAL (1 month) //

Hands down the writing software that changed my PhD. It’s a wee bit too complex to describe in two sentences but it’s essentially a writing programme that is designed specifically for the successful conquering of big writing projects. Unlike many text processing programmes, it’s meant to help you focus on the writing and research process rather than any of the formatting malarkey; it allows you to break your text up in sections you can easily move around and also have all of your notes and secondary sources in one and the same place.  It takes a little bit of time to get used to but once you get the hang of its basic functions, it will help you to structure and see your chapters in a new light.



An app that allows you to create blacklist of sites you want to keep yourself from accessing for a set period of time. Once you’ve put the timer in place, you have to restart your entire system if you want to access one of the restricted pages before the timer runs out.



Needs no introduction; trusty old Skype is always a winner, particularly if you wanted to facilitate group conversations. We at PG CWWN use it for our monthly virtual meetings.


FREE with adverts //

I’m very late to this party but I’ve only recently (re)discovered spotify for thesis writing. I always work and write with my headphones in and I’m particularly intrigued by spotify’s wide range of playlists to get me in the right writing mood and discover new music while doing it.

Todoist / Wunderlist

FREE // /

Two excellent apps to help you stay on top of your to-dos. They also sync across devices (with additional apps for phone and tablet), so you can easily access and modify your lists on the go.

VLC Video Player


Super useful as it plays close to all video and audio formats – no more annoying switching between players for different video/audio formats.

WhatsApp Desktop


Same purpose as the Facebook messenger app; sometimes you just want to reply to a quick WhatsApp message but don’t want to risk being glued to your phone for the next 15 minutes. Also, sometimes your fingers just type more quickly on a laptop keyboard.

YouTube Downloader


Particularly handy to download clips you want to integrate into your PowerPoint presentation, or just download videos as backup in case the internet doesn’t work wherever you may be presenting.