Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions about the different tools I use to “beat graduate school”. So, I thought I’d take every (or every other, or every-whenever-I-have-time) Tuesday to share them with you all, and talk about them in a grad-student centric way. While mostly they will be software apps or computer related, there may also be the occasional “real life” product that will make the list. I’ll try to keep them cost-effective. As I am a Mac user, there will certainly be a bias towards Mac-based tools, and I apologize for that. It’s what I know. If there are good alternatives for PCs, please post them in the comments! Anyway, let me know what you think of them, and please feel free to share any tools that help you to “beat graduate school”.
Today’s Tool: Doodle.
Part of every graduate student’s worst nightmare is the Committee Meeting. In part, this is because you have to sit with a bunch of experts in your field and tell them why what you’re doing is so great and why it’s taking so long, and then they tell you why it isn’t that great, and why it should be done faster. Really, though, most of the stress comes from trying to get five busy people to sit in a room for an hour. My first few meetings were nearly impossible to set up, and resulted in weeks of email, many headaches, and eventual meetings with one person missing. Throw in the fact that I have committee members in multiple time zones and different states, and you have one stressed grad student.
Doodle is a very simple tool that lets you set up a calendar poll for each person you want to attend the meeting. You can break each potential meeting day into segments of time, and each person gets an email directing them to that poll. They then select what times during the day they are available, when they aren’t available, and when they might be available. It even has time zone support, so that committee member in Texas won’t have to subtract (or worse, forget to subtract). The best part? All the members of my committee were tech savvy enough to figure it out. And trust me when I say, all of the members of my committee are not very tech savvy.
Doodle also has mobile apps for Android and for iPhone, in addition to a mobile website and a Google Widget, so that you can respond to Doodle requests on the go. It also appears that they are starting to integrate with various calendars, including Outlook, so that you can upload people’s “busy” status automatically (at least, I think that’s what’s going on there. I don’t use Outlook, so I’d need someone to verify that for me). Y0u can also automatically import your Doodle meetings to your various calendars. If you have the extra cash, you can pay a little extra for Premium Doodle ($27/year), and set up an avatar as well as customize the background of your meeting polls. While not really necessary for your graduate committee, it’s something to keep in mind if you are running a business and want to schedule meetings with clients.
A new piece to Doodle is MeetMe, which provides a public profile for people to visit and schedule meetings with you. This could be advantageous for busy faculty members and teaching assistants, and used as a way for students to schedule office hours or one-on-one meetings. I haven’t had a chance to use this yet, as it’s pretty new, but it looks promising (see my profile here, and let’s schedule lunch: http://doodle.com/terrypbrock).
There are not many tools out there that are simple to use and easy to understand. Doodle is one of those tools: it does one thing and it does it well. It cuts down greatly on the email. The organizer is alerted when someone fills out their Doodle, and everyone is alerted as to the selected date and time. That’s it. No more long email chains about different dates and times. This means more time working on your dissertation, and less time managing your committee.
Tool Tip: Just because you’re setting up a 2-hour meeting doesn’t mean you should break the Doodle time segments into 2-hour blocks: if you schedule them each on 30 minutes, you can simply select the times when you have four 30-minute sections in a row. This way, you aren’t restricted to a meeting from 10-12, it could be from 9:30-11:30.