Organising your PhD Data with Notion, Google Sheets, Google Drive

Hello my mysterious PhD blog readers! How many of my friends are also pursuing obscure interdisciplinary PhDs? Who are you? What motivated your to read a post with a title like this?

This blog has been on the backburner because I’ve been working on a massive DBBD website overhaul that I plan to launch in May 2023, which is also when my PhD Coursework (for the entire PhD!) is finally completed, leaving me the time and space to focus on the research and practice bit of things.

I haven’t been posting because I’ve developed other “offline” systems for keeping my research work on track. Here’s a bit about my system for researching and capturing data and reading all the literature that I need to read…

Every PDF I have downloaded

Since starting the PhD I have kept an archive of EVERY SINGLE DOCUMENT that I have come into contact with. The files are given a date – for when I first in contact with them, and I collect everything from academic articles, news articles, writing guides, academic career guides, open calls, other people’s CVs on their websites, dissertations and all manner of digital books in PDF form. If there’s an exceptional website resource, I download a PDF of it and also add this to my knowledge base for the month. After that, I file it away into a google drive folder for the month.

Annotated Listing of every PDF I have downloaded

Now that I have collected a whole lot of data, I also have to sort and read through it. So I used a script i got from here (List Google Drive Folder File Names and URLs to a Google Sheet) to create a listing that I could annotate.

The intention of this annotation is to keep a little waypost or link back to a quotable quote, such as a core definition or example I could use in my PhD. I’ve realised how even more “general” readings can be useful in this sense, to paint the wider picture and lend me their wider definitions. But I also am on the lookout for some pretty practical ‘meta-reads’ such as academic writing guides and game publishing guides.


Finally, I’m a huge fan of using Notion’s tables to track everything that I am doing on a daily basis. Tiny morsels and thoughts that might otherwise fall through the cracks are collected here, such as small fragments from conversations I’ve had with people.

I love Notion’s split view which gives me a sense of where I am in a class syllabus and where the threads of thoughts have come from and are going to. As I attend classes I like to scour the internet for images of what the profs are talking about and then paste them furiously into my notion. (Sorry to the profs who must think I am furiously multitasking on something else – but actually! Usually I am just looking at all the alternative images of the work that being discussed in class!)

The question of how much information the student will retain is always a question. I like to think that my capture rate is near total. For me, I do try to take extremely detailed notes from all of my lectures and lessons with this system and I also try to review it at the end of the day and week. I’m writing my notes intentionally in a way that might facilitate me in writing my own teaching material about the topic in the near-future.

Oh and for the last half year my Wiki suddenly lost its default css template for some unknown reason that I failed to properly investigate until last week. Turns out it was just some easily fixable PHP issue on my server that I did sit down and fix and voilah, I will be returning to adding more morsels to my wiki over the course of my PhD as well (especially on the suggestion of my PhD Supervisor to create a concise and detailed glossary of terms that I will use in my thesis).


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