Quals and Google Docs

I’m not shilling for Google; I’m just very pleased with what we’ve been able to do with Google Docs and want to share.

Me and several of my classmates are beginning our qualifying exam on Friday. In our PhD program, we are given a question on Friday morning and we turn in our answer – maximum 20 pages – by Monday afternoon. Then we do it again the next Friday with a different question written by our respective advisers. We can’t work together on our answers but we have worked together to collect and summarize (what we hope to be) helpful resources on Google Docs.

Google recently added two features to Google Docs that have made this possible:

  • Shared folders: We have created folders in Google Docs to organize our materials (Faculty, History, Finance, etc.) and shared those folders with one another.  So we didn’t have to create our own set of materials and organize them; we created one set of folders, organized them, and shared them with everyone.
  • Upload any file: Google now allows you to upload any kind of file to Google docs, including pdfs and Word documents.  This has allowed us to not only create summaries of resources for each topic but also upload a copy of the article, chapter, etc.

It’s not perfect.  Sharing folders with 7 other people requires you to either (a) obsessively reorganize and rename every file so everything is consistent or (b) let it go.  We have also stepped on one another’s toes at least once in editing a document but it was easy to roll back to an older version of the document.

Our colleagues who took their quals last semester also did something like this and those materials are shared with us.  We also uploaded to Google Docs older collections of materials from colleagues that took quals a few years ago.  So at this point we have a sizable collection of materials that should be helpful in preparing for quals and writing our answers.

But it’s not just about those of us taking quals this week.  We’re also thinking about the future and those who will come after us.  In that vein, we’ve already shared all of the materials (they’re all in one folder with many subfolders so sharing is easy!) with classmates who will be taking quals in the future (next year, 2 years from now, etc.) so they have access to all of these resources, too.  We hope that they do the same thing for future generations of IU HESA doctoral students.  We’re paying it forward and Google Docs has made it easy for us to do so.

(There is one additional step in my personal process of collecting these materials and organizing them: I’ve uploaded all of them to my personal bibliography.  I’m trying to keep my materials centralized there where I can access them from anywhere and share them with anyone.  It was also a helpful part of the review process because as I was uploading them I reviewed every document that my colleagues contributed.  Finally, my bibliographic tool creates the correctly-formatted APA citation – with some known exceptions and quirks – for each source so I don’t have to worry about doing that myself or relying on the citations created by my classsmates.)