Benefits of an e-reader for academics

E-readers are no good for reading scientific papers.1 They’re grayscale, they’re too small, and flipping back and forth between pages takes time. That said, my e-reader has two key benefits for me as a scientist/academic. It provides a truly offline method to read content later and it lets me read books that are only available as PDFs.

An example of how a given blog post looks on my e-reader

Keeping up with academic and scientific blogs

I currently subscribe to 30-odd2 blogs, most of which focus on the meta aspects of academia: the publishing process, peer-review, job hunting, software recommendations, etc. Many post at least once a week, others maybe once a month. (I keep up via RSS feeds in Mozilla Thunderbird.) Some days, I’ll end up with a half-dozen new posts to read.

Posts typically come in around the 500–1000 word mark. In terms of reading time, this equates to 3–5 minutes. But multiply that by the number of posts and you end up with a significant amount of time, more time than I want to sit at my computer reading, when I should be doing something more productive.

This is where my e-reader comes in. In one batch, I’ll open all the blog posts that sound interesting, and then download them to my e-reader to read later. Although there are services like Pocket that let you read content later, they effectively rely on you being online. And, without strong self control, chances are you’ll find yourself either in the comments section or off reading something else. More importantly, you’ll have to read the content on a computer or phone screen, neither of which are as suited to the task as a e-reader.

My suggestion for converting a web page to something readable on a e-reader is to first remove all the clutter, keeping just the text and main pictures. (As noted in a past post, I recommend the Just Read extension for chrome users.) Once that’s done, it’s a simple matter of saving the page as an A5-sized PDF. In Chrome, this whole process boils down to two keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl-Shift-L (for Just Read), then Ctrl-P to save as a PDF. Unfortunately, it isn’t this simple in Firefox, because its ‘save as PDF’ functionality isn’t as good as Chrome. A better option in this case may be to find an extension that converts pages to an e-reader format like epub.

A chance to read books I might not otherwise read

I specifically chose a larger-than-typical e-reader, the 7.8-in Kobo Aura One (this particular model is no longer available as of 2019). I’m glad I did, because there are many books of such a size3 that are available in PDF form that I might not otherwise read. An example is Eloquent Science, which is available free via my university’s library. The actual book isn’t available, just the PDF. There was no way I would’ve read the whole thing on my laptop or printed it out. Putting it on my e-reader, however, let me read it while sitting down in a comfy chair or in bed.

Margins on PDFs can occasionally be a problem because they cause the text to shrink. I’ve found that Briss does a good job at removing the margins easily.


1. Here’s a more optimistic take on reading papers with an e-reader.
2. Blogs on the more meta aspects of science and academia that I recommend checking out include Scientist Sees SquirrelNotes from the JGR-Space Physics EiCSmall Pond ScienceDoctoral Writing, Better Figures, and Walking Randomly.
3. Reading PDFs on standard-sized (6-in) e-reader may be possible depending on the font size. I’ve not tried it.

Author: Ken Hughes

Post-doctoral research scientist in physical oceanography

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