Spring Office Cleaning -or- How Do You Stay Organized? -or- What Textbooks Did You Choose To Buy?

It’s the end of the semester; classes are over, marking is done, and my office is a sty:

This always happens – a flurry of the previous 4 months can be viewed in one photo*: among other things, I count papers for three classes and my thesis, three large catalogues used to order various nasty chemicals for my upcoming field work, and the leftover tupperware used to hold the cookies I baked for the EOS seminar I organize and run. As I sat there, backing up all my files onto a CD (a labmate of mine recently spilled beer all over his laptop – heh, yea, beer – so motivation was abound), two things came to mind:

1) During your undergrad, you are forced to buy (or borrow, steal, or swindle) textbooks for the 40 or so courses you’re required to take. Of course, textbooks aren’t cheap, so many students either refuse to buy them and copy/borrow/swindle/etc. the material OR buy and later return them to the bookstore for a meager compensation (and watch the bookstote resell them to the upcoming cohort for twice the price – for this reason, I kept all my textbooks, of which ~30% have come in handy since the courses have finished). However, as you carve away a niche for yourself in academia, and really sink your claws into some meaty material that will undoubtedly provide a career’s worth of research in the future, something changes – you find yourself wanting to accrue textbooks. The near canonized books that all your labmates, TAs, and prof’s refer to – you want them, real bad. Here are a few of those books I currently have in my office:

Although not all of these books are specific to my field, most are invaluable in their own respect. At the farthest left is what has been referred to as “the bible” of oceanography, “Tracers in the Sea”.

I stole it from a library – bibles should be free.

For 20 years, it served as the standard text for the field, and has since been replaced (some may argue, including myself) by “Ocean Biogeochemical Dynamics” (read: physics, chemistry, biology, and geology of ocean stuff; it’s a pretty intense field) that is third from the right hand side. Next to ‘Tracers’ is an old but good review of trace metals in seawater (what I do), and an old PhD thesis bound in red bookfelt on a similar subject (a metal that I do). Of course, one cannot go without a statistics text because, well, sorry to break it to you up-and-coming science grad students but stat’s is p r e t t y important. In fact, you really can’t avoid it. At all.

Moving on: the text on top of the stat’s book is a recent arrival to my book collection, and is an excellent review of different proxies used in paleoceanographic reconstructions (read: studying ancient ocean stuff, like climate). Accompanying two books on basic ocean circulation and molecular genetics is the enormous Alberts et al. text “The Cell” – everything you could ever want to know about cells, ever.

But what about you – do you have any textbooks you feel are too invaluable to do without? Have you sought after the “bible” in your field, and if so – what is it, and is it still in print (I mention this because ‘Tracers’ hasn’t been in print for ~5 years or so).

2) So, that said, and with organization of my cluttered desk lingering, I wondered how other students keep their shit – i.e. their piles of journal articles, essays, books, etc. – organized. I adopted a strategy that one of my supervisors uses (using the program EndNote, I assign a number to every paper; this way I can search through my +500 library of articles and easily pick out what I’m looking for). I need hard copies of all my papers – I write all over hell and gone on them (electronic papers aren’t really conducive to this), so keeping  hard copies around of everything I read is absolutely necessary.

Nonetheless, I’m very curious about the habits of others (especially senior scientists) – did you simply adopt your sup’s method, or something better, easier, or just different? I realize “schools of thought” are often pervasive and are passed down through multiple generations of grad students – might organizational methodologies succumb to the same fate? Imagine taking claim to the particular organizational system that Einstein or Bohr, or some other relevant scientist in your field?

*Note: for the sharp sighted, that *is* a Red Deer College coffee mug sitting on my desk; RDC university transfer program alumnus 2003 – we are few and far between.

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: davidsemeniuk.com

3 Responses to “Spring Office Cleaning -or- How Do You Stay Organized? -or- What Textbooks Did You Choose To Buy?”

  1. Timon

    I think I have both “Introduction to Genetic Analysis” and “The Cell”, but they’re older editions.


    I need to graduate.

    As to my “filing system”, I have a loose affiliation of folders containing papers I’ve printed out over the years and a repository of .pdfs on the lab’s computer network (just in case). The stacks of paper that arise when my wife and I both attempt to write in the same apartment can be pretty hilarious. God only knows what my supervisor’s method is. Maybe he gets .pdfs sent to his blackberry.

  2. eeyun

    Textbooks I still have? None. Although I admit I wish I had kept my histology books for sure. Biochemistry and genetics books abound in our lab space, but we never seem to have something that tells us what the cells actually do!

  3. Vivian

    I blame UBC. And this is one of my rare beef with it. The problem is none of my texts are desirable because either profs don’t teach the course again, or they want to switch books, or the publishing house comes up with an asshole-way to upgrade the book into the 29438th edition, so nobody wants to buy ’em. UBC bookstore also has a great way of forking you. You buy texts at full value, they buyback for 99 cents. Oww. I sometimes dream of a day where if I sell off all my textbooks, at least for half of what I paid originally, I’d be a little richer.

    Fortunately as an Arts student and needing to do all these language and literature prerequisites, having a FULL set of Norton’s Anthology of English Literature, a copy of Sartre’s plays, and other novels make my bookshelf look spiffy.

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