This is the best decade to be a grad student

Catching up on the literature is a daunting aspect of graduate studies. As a physical oceanographer, I regularly cite work from 30 to 40 years ago. In that time, and all the way back to the turn of the 20th century, the scientists before me got to answer all the low-hanging-fruit problems and write the papers that will be cited thousands of time. They leave behind the messy, complex, and esoteric questions for the current grad students. Surely, then, I would think the 60s or 70s or even earlier would have been the best time to be a grad student?

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Invest in a good text editor

Scientists should invest time in a good text editor: pay the upfront cost of learning to use and customising a single editor for all of your text needs. This may be obvious to programmers, but less so to scientists who may have yet to recognise the benefits of a good editor.

Much scientific analysis and documentation can be achieved with plain text files (e.g., .py, .m, .f, .r, .tex, or .md). The default method to work with multiple file types is to use multiple IDEs (Integrated Development Environments): Matlab for m-files, Spyder or IPython notebooks for python scripts, TexStudio or TeXnicCenter for latex files, RStudio for R, or one of the countless editors for Markdown currently available.

Using a single editor has many benefits over using a range of editors within each IDE:

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To italicise or not to italicise

Italics are used widely in mathematics and science; it’s how variables are typeset. However, it turns out that italics are often used where they shouldn’t be. I’m sure most scientists could happily live their lives without ever learning about the following examples of incorrect uses of italics. But as all scientists should know: minor details matter.

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LyX: a middle-ground to LaTeX and Word

LyX is a document processor that provides the power and professional-looking typesetting of LaTeX with the familiarity of an easy-to-use graphical interface à la MS Word. Effectively, it provides the best of both worlds. For someone without knowledge of LaTeX, LyX is less imposing and has a smaller learning curve. But even seasoned LaTeX users who have no desire to leave their favourite text editor can take advantage of some of LyX’s features.

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Skip the outline slide; use a sidebar

Outline slides in scientific talks are unnecessary and cut into a speaker’s valuable time. Many scientific talks are 10–12 minutes, and spending a whole slide outlining the next 10 minutes is pointless. Why? Because your talk is very likely going to follow a standard order: You’ll start with some motivation, move onto the background, present your results, then finish up with what you have concluded. This is what the audience is expecting, so don’t need to waste time reiterating. As an audience member, I prefer you use this time to teach me something.

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Why LaTeX-typeset documents look professional

Documents typeset using LaTeX just look better than than their MS Word (or equivalent) counterparts. LaTeX has many well-known features to make document creation easy. However, it is some of its lesser-known features that together produce a professional-looking document.

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