Essential Software for Scientists & Researchers
Scientific work includes lots of tasks. Scientists have to research topics, experiment theories, analyze data, collaborate with others, write and draw conclusions, and present their work in the form of publication or report. Of course, these numerous activities cannot be achieved without a single piece of software. Scientists often have to rely upon several computer programs to ease and complete their work. In this guide, we have covered important software programs that people working in the science and research arena should be aware of.
An online notebook is a simple but essential tool to record any information from different sources. Note-taking helps to save and recall any piece of information that we would like to revisit. You can manage your tasks and set reminders with a notebook. A good notebook must be available on mobile devices and can be accessed through desktops. Further, it should also support other common files, like images and pdfs.
Evernote is one of the most popular note-taking apps. You can attach external files and annotate texts. And in addition to that, you can share your notes with others. It is available for free with limited usage. For full access to all its features, you have purchased the app.
If you use Microsoft products, particularly Office 365, MS OneNote is very useful since it can be integrated with other Microsoft products.
Google Keep is a cross-platform application. You can access it via its Android or iOS app or through a browser for non-mobile devices.
Writing and reading
Scientific writing is quite different from most written work because it includes numbers, tables, diagrams, and mathematical equations. So, the word processor for scientific researchers must support mathematics.
MS Word is old and remains a sophisticated word processor for most purposes. It is a part of Office 365, and MS Words provides extensive word editing features and support Math equations. It also recommended software for many scientific publishers.
Google Docs is a new and popular alternative to MS Word. Most people who work online prefer Google Docs over MS Word. Although it might not have many features as in MS Word, Docs is very effective for most writing. Its simple, lightweight interface is less confusing than MS Word. Further, it is free; you only need a Google Account to access it. Google Docs also supports Mathematics.
If your work involves lots of equations, then Latex is the best for handling math. It provides more flexibility over traditional word processors for preparing technical documents. But learning it will definitely take a while since it has its own markup. You can use online Latex editors, e.g., Overleaf.
PDFs have become very common for sharing and reading documents. They offer a fixed format for a document, independent of an operating system or software. You may not need an external application to open PDFs since most modern browsers can open them. However, If you want a PDF reader that offers many functionalities, like editing, commenting, Adobe Reader is the one to be considered.
Your work is valuable. You cannot depend on local storage; having an online backup is very useful. An online back drive allows you to access your files and documents from any device.
Google Drive is a common option to safely keep your important files. You can also download it on your mobile or laptop and synchronize local folders. A free Google account offers 15 GB storage, which covers Google Drive. For more storage, you have to upgrade to a paid plan.
OneDrive is a Microsoft product. Its free version only gives 5 GB of storage. But for Office 365 users, the storage limit is upgraded to 1 TB, which I think is enough for most.
Dropbox is another freemium cloud storage software. You can sync your files on various devices through Dropbox software and services.
Scientists use programming to complete laborious and mathematical operations. Programming can be used to collect data, analyze data, and process data.
Python is the most favored programming language among scientists, especially data scientists. Its easy syntax & vast libraries make it indispensable. Moreover, it is easy to learn for beginners and is more productive than other languages.
Graphing and mathematical software
Research involves experiments, testing, and surveys. Often, the conclusions of scientific work are expressed in plots and charts. These graphics can be simple as an XY line to a three-dimensional graph. We need to have reliable software that can understand data and solve complex equations.
MATLAB is the foremost tool for scientists and engineers. It covers numerical computational, plotting & graphing of functions, simulation, and other mathematical abilities. It is a sophisticated software and used by millions of users worldwide. Besides this, it provides additional packages for different niches of science and engineering.
Python is a free, open-source language backed by a large community across the globe. Python has vast collections of free scientific libraries, such as Matplotlib, Scipy, Numpy, Panda. You can perform numerical operations, solve differential equations, plot functions, and create GUI-based applications with it.
Mathematica, or better known as Wolfram Mathematica, is high-performance computing software. It is used by scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and other technical people. It is specialized in wide domains that include neural networks, AI, image processing, visualization, equation solving, data science.
Sometimes, people want to reverse-engineer graphs, i.e., extract data from graph images. Or people might want to digitize graphs and plots from their physical copies. This digitization of graphs can be achieved by PlotDigitizer.
Preparing scientific and technical papers is never easy. A good reference manager can alleviate the work.
Owned by Elsevier, Mendeley is one of the best reference managers that you require. It can manage and create references, citations, bibliographies in a few clicks.
Text & code editors
Text and code editors are simple, lightweight tools for editing text and code files.
Though there are many text editors out on the internet, Sublime Text is one of the extraordinary editors for code, markup, and prose. But it is not free; you have purchased a license.
Developed by Microsoft, VS Code is the most popular code editor. It has several features: debugging capabilities, IntelliSense, support for several languages, & tons of extensions.
Presentation is something we all have used at some point in our careers. Making bold and clear slides helps us to effectively deliver our research to our audience.
MS PowerPoint/Google Slides
MS PowerPoint is the most used and accepted software for presenting information. It also supports mathematics, which means you can insert math equations in slides. A free online alternative to MS PowerPoint is Google Slides.
Image editing and drawing software
Scientific papers and reports often contain lots of graphics and drawings. Graphics include images of experiments or photos of some specimens, and drawings could be simple sketches to complex engineering CADs. You may require some basic photo editing and drawing tools to deal with graphics.
Photoshop is the industry-standard program for raster image editing. It is paid software. You can opt for GIMP as a free, open-source alternative to Photoshop.
For non-technical drawings, vector editors work fine. Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape are two popular vector graphic editors. A major difference is the former is paid, and the latter is free.
Website blog and portfolio
In this age of the internet, most celebrities, including prominent scientists, own a personal website to showcase their work, like a portfolio. A personal website also helps to keep your audience updated with your newest work.
WordPress is one of the most popular website builders on the internet. If you want a more professional website, you start with buying a domain name, e.g., YourName.com, and a hosting plan from WordPress.com. Or you could use the free version of it, which will come with a non-personalized domain name, e.g., YourName.wordpress.com.
Other alternatives to WordPress are Wix and Squarespace.