I recently came across a couple of articles titled the seven wonders of the internet. One is now over a decade old before the rise of YouTube and Facebook so is an interesting snapshot, the other was an ecliptic collection from denizens of the web. I thought it would be fun to give an honest account of what I spend most of the time on, hopefully people may make some new discoveries reading this or even add to it!
7. Academic Blogs
There are an endless supply of blogs about academic interests. They're a great way to keep up to date, they're immersive - because the writers are usually enthusiastic, humorous and quirky. Coming from a behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology perspective, I’m probably a bit biased, but I think the following are awesome: ‘WTF’evolution, Parasite of the Day, Science Sushi and Antyscience. But perhaps the greatest blog of all is this one.
Another path to keep on top of the science news is through subscribing to RSS feeds. The pinnacle of convenience, they can be linked directly into Outlook. Alternatively there is a RSS feed manager becoming popular in our cohort called Feedly. My feeds are geared primarily to produce weekly supply of news from the major journals like Science and Nature. It’s easy to narrow sight to your specific field during a PhD however, I hope to use RSS feeds in an attempt to keep my horizons broad.
6. MOOCs and Podcasts
There are tons of free lectures and podcasts which I use to kill dead time such as travelling and cooking.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are relatively involved, consisting of lectures and assignments. Coursera offer a range of series from training in languages, through debates over climate change, to learning the evolutionary history of humans. Codeschool takes a novel approach to the plethora of coding languages, such as the ‘AAAARRRGGHHH’ Pirate R Course.
Podcasts are audio (and video) files often in a series with more of a passive one way dialogue. BBC Radio 4 have about 3 hours worth of science related programs every week. Science and Nature also have weekly episodes. Ted(sup)TM(/sup) talks are brilliant, where else can you watch expert’s presenting diverse topics in a public setting? You can move through the secrets of bat genomes for example, or the ironies of the developing word and necrophilia in ducks with just two clicks!
Moreover, I have discovered other smaller independent podcasts through the grapevine - such as New York City’s excellent Radiolab. There are other exotic infrequent episodes which are often gems, for example have a look at ones done by the Linnean or the Royal Society.
There’s definitely a stigma about using Wikipedia, there are concerns that it is unverified and anyone can write whatever about anything they want which can lead to controversies about misinformation. However, this creative commons has wide support being the 6th busiest site globally. Personally, I use it for looking up anything in depth however, its purpose in science shenanigans is to act as a primer, summary and initial literature search.
4. Social Networks & Interest Groups
I’m sure most people have heard that humans are a social species; a quick search of ‘human, social, animal’ gets 50.5 million hits on Google. This could be reflected that the 2nd, 8th and 12th largest circles on the internet map are social networking sites. Facebook is revolutionary way to keep up to date with your personal life, so much so that review papers are now being published on addiction! Twitter is a convenient way to gather titbits of information about new papers, courses, grants and opportunities. Two bonuses are the customisation in what you follow and the social filter present which amplifies the best ideas by retweeting them - much like citing papers.
Linkedin, Researchgate and OCRID are all platforms to create professional network. It’s like a public online CV. The first is quite general to discipline however, the other two are based on research with features like publications, affiliations, forums and impact rankings.
There are diverse array of interest groups dotted around the web. Academic societies often have forums and event pages on their website: British Ecological Society, Association of the Study of Animal Behaviour and the Royal Entomological Societies are prime examples. More informal sites I intend to dabble with include iSpot and iRecord - which are a new method of submitting species records and getting them verified in an interactive community. Stackoverflow is similar, but is a lifesaver when it comes to focusing on troubleshooting codes in the statistical programme R, which is particularly popular in ecology.
Scopus, Web of knowledge and Google Scholar are all search engines for the building blocks of research, articles published in peer reviewed journals. There seems to be a case of personal preference about which to use; mine is Scopus, simply because it was the one I started with.
Taking a wider view, there are some awesome sites run by governmental bodies, companies and charities. Let’s say a group have been employed to survey for the retraction of an endangered species from its historical range. The International Panel of Climate Change reports, International Union for Conservation of Nature and polls from IPSOS-mori would be good resources to frame the wider picture. Arkive could provide hints about biology, the National Biodiversity Network may have data on distribution while the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature could highlight any synonymous names in historic records.
2. Email, Data and Calendars
Love them or hate them, emails and timetable seem to be the bread and butter in the busy working life of the modern age. Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendars are my respective brands. However, there are many condiments and toppings to this. Doodle Poll and Survey Monkey make organising your life easier. Doodle Polls are primarily a timetable which can be seen by a groups to work out mutual availability while Survey Monkey generates - you guessed it - surveys.
Finally Dropbox, Google Drive and Onedrive are all essential ways to avoid catastrophes by providing online storage to backup and share work.
It’s my homepage, I would imagine it’s the same for the majority of the planet. It is the central circle on the internet map; it is the busiest site with nearly 50% of total internet users visiting it! A special mention goes to Google Maps. No longer do we need to bother strangers, battle paper maps or directories for directions. I haven’t been able to find a grid reference capacity for survey records on it however, an alternative is ’Where’s the Path?’. Remembering back to the days of pre-university it guided me to online computer games and funny animal videos and forums. Although that may still infrequently be the case now and then, Google has become my lynchpin and troubleshooter to everything.