It seems like a statement of rather obvious fact that technology plays a greater role in the life of today's graduate student than it ever has in the past. And, in fact, it is obvious. But sometimes it's easy to overlook all the ways in which today's technology can make the grad school experience not only easier and better, but also richer and more edifying in ways you may not have thought of before.
In fact, there are so many technological developments occurring all the time that keeping up with them is virtually impossible, and taking full advantage of them is even more difficult. And we don't claim to have all the answers here. In fact, by the time you read this, a brand new technology will likely have been developed, making the educational experience that much richer and requiring a whole new set of answers.
So rather than dealing with the cutting edge, we will address the technological standards that can most effectively and efficiently make your grad school years extraordinary. Some of these may be technologies that you already take advantage of, but it's possible that you aren't making the most out of them. Here, then, is our guide to grad school-relevant technology.
Podcasts, blogs and digital lectures
Once upon a time, you actually had to be in the classroom or lecture hall to get your grad school education. And while there are certainly many reasons why that is still the case, you do have options these days. Sure, it used to be commonplace for many professors to post their lectures online. And even before that, there were services at many colleges and universities that would hire students to take notes in classes, and then pay them to type them up in order to sell copies at a premium. This allowed students to miss class with some degree of impunity: They could get the relevant information without having to be in the physical classroom at the time.
But these days, students don't have to go through an academic intermediary, for many professors maintain websites. Some of them even record their lectures-audio and video are both common-and make them available as podcasts. This way, students can listen to-and perhaps re-listen to-the class lectures if needed.
This technology is also an advantage when it comes to studying. It is widely believed that the more senses you can use when studying, the more complete an understanding you will ultimately have of the topic at hand. So imagine how much you will gain from not only reading your notes before a big exam, but also from re-experiencing the very lecture from which those notes came in the first place.
The ivory tower: the mythical place where professors were traditionally assumed to live, a mystical land where their expertise was never questioned not because they were never wrong, but mainly because they were so darn inaccessible, aside from the few office hours they held each week.
Now, of course, this is no longer the case. E-mail and other forms of electronic communication-instant messaging and video mail, for example-have made it possible to carry on a dialogue with your professors in ways that were never imaginable just a few short years ago. And not only that, but you can solicit their help for specific questions you have, fire ideas back and forth about topics relevant to your area of study (and their area of expertise) and reach them on a much more human level than was ever traditionally possible. And that makes a graduate school education a whole lot richer than it ever was before.
Online study groups
Before computers took over the entire world, study groups were just that: A bunch of people sitting around a room, an apartment, a library-studying together, going over their notes, discussing issues pertaining to the work at hand. Basically, there were two things that made up a study group: A group of people, and some sort of studying going on.
But these days, the Internet has completely changed the nature of study groups. For one thing, you no longer have to be in the same room in order to participate in one. And for another, you don't even really have to do your studying at the same time as everyone else. Indeed, from chat rooms to special forums that have been set up by the professor, there are innumerable ways to study with others these days, and not all of them are necessarily what you would have expected.
The advantages of these are numerous: The ability to study on your own time, the breadth of resources at your disposal, the fact that you can conduct your studying and research from the comfort of your own home, and therefore potentially put more time into it. However you choose to utilize the Internet for studying-whether alone or in a group-you should be using it. It is one of the single best developments in the realm of studying to have occurred in years.
The point is this: Modern technology has changed the nature of the graduate school experience in ways that no one could have imagined five or ten years ago. And while there is an ever-growing pool of online and technological resources available for students these days, it is always a good idea to revisit the situation and see how you might use technology even better than you have been. Because the truth is that these days, there's no telling when the next breakthrough might come around that changes your academic life.