I am looking for good options for tools to manage my PhD students, in terms of seeing that they are on track in working out their PhD theses (I am in the UK, three year system) and are hitting their necessary milestones. Each year, as the number of students I supervise grow, it becomes more unwieldy to keep track of each student's progress.

In some ways this sounds like I am looking for a project management tool like MS Project or OmniPlan. But these seem too unwieldy and, perhaps, I would like to also have something that can help manage the chapters I have read and the comments I have given then.

So some basic features would be:

  • Collaborative software (preference of hosted on a server)
  • Task lists with deadlines
  • Timeline progression

I am curious what recommendations people have.

  • 4
    Try Trello. – Orion Dec 23 '16 at 9:21
  • I've been using OmniPlan for Gannt charts for my advisees but I agree it's very clunky. – RoboKaren Dec 23 '16 at 19:43
  • Try talking to them in weekly meetings. – Dan Fox Dec 23 '16 at 20:28
  • I have the same problem and simply use Dropbox and have a shared folder dedicated to each of my PhD students. All docs in one place, all versions of comments, dissertation prospectus, etc. it isn't as automated and checklisty as the other things suggested here... but it is great to know exactly where to find the most up to date info. – TrueVoice Dec 23 '16 at 21:02
  • I've thought about using Dropbox too, but I want to have a little more control on the sharing than that. Would love a full collaborative environment with docs, comments, timelines, etc. but that's probably too much to ask. – caorongjin Dec 24 '16 at 0:09
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Like @Orion suggested, trello is great for organizing work. It is a kanban board where you express tasks as cards and you pile those cards in different decks; usual decks are TO-DO, DOING and DONE, but this is up to you. You can have different boards, one per student. It is collaborative and allows to grant access to a board to specific users (e.g. each student's board would be accessed by the student and you). you can open a card and write comments on it.

If you prefer not to depend on an external service, you can self-host a trello clone, like wekan.

Update: for Gantt charts within the kanban board approach, I see 2 options:

  • Pay for the Trello extension called elegantt.
  • Use the open source kanban board called kanboard. It is less visually appealing, but comes with a Gantt view out of the box. You can either host it yourself or subscribe to the hosted version.
  • My quick look at both of these leads me intrigued. I perhaps should have clarified that it would be useful to have a timeline view to see how we are progressing to meet the three year deadline. – caorongjin Dec 23 '16 at 12:04
  • Thanks! The Gantt chart makes sense and I really like the look of kanboard – I like simplicity! – caorongjin Dec 23 '16 at 14:40

Try overleaf and sharelatex shared accounts! That way you can monitor thesis writing progress and even comment and modify.

  • What you suggest is more collaborative editing/commenting. (As I'm in the humanities, I would use one of the online markdown collaboration suits instead.) But my question is about managing schedules and research plans. – caorongjin Dec 23 '16 at 23:48
  • The tools I have mentioned use TeX, which usage might be less common in humanities. Could you please comment/write an answer with the name of these tools? Or are they the same ncasas mentioned? – S. Diaxo Dec 23 '16 at 23:55
  • Yes, in my previous life I was a programmer and can manage anything from Java to LaTeX to Git, but I don't expect my students to. Since going into academics, I prefer to write in Markdown and am very interested in online collaboration. The main ones I think work best, as of yet, are on Github or the equivalent as can be seen here. However, they are still too bloated for my students... but that's perhaps a different SE question. – caorongjin Dec 24 '16 at 0:06

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