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Online Research Tools

Happy New Year and welcome back! Now that the most people are back to work, it is time to start thinking about making progress on that thesis. What better way, than to stay cutting edge with online research tools?

When I was a first year graduate student, the primary way I did research was to highlight interesting references at the end of papers, go to the library, find the journals, and photocopy the articles. (Okay, I know I am dating myself here, but online research tools and journals were really beginning to pick up by my second year). Then, I would read the photocopied papers, circle more promising references, and make another trip to the library.

Fortunately, the flow of research has sped up significantly in the last few years, The wealth of resources available today makes it possible to stay on top of new developments in your field, find exciting job opportunities, and look for novel applications of your research. Many databases (e.g. PubMed, see below) have alert services, so the relevant information can be brought directly to your inbox. If you receive alerts from multiple news sources, you can centralize them through RSS feeds. (If you are not familiar with RSS feeds, go to, and check out Google Reader as well).

Every field has specific databases, so I will just list a few of the free interdisciplinary databases:

Most of us use Google as a search engine, but few people know about all of the other free services offered by this company. Besides categorizing information, it also offers alert services at

Here are a few other free tools from Google:

Google Scholar: http:// indexes articles across an array of disciplines from the world's largest scientific publishers.

Google Patent:, indexes 7 million patents from the US

Google Government: allows you to search websites from local and federal governments, as well as agencies and news sources.

Google Directory: is a search engine organized by categories such as arts, business, health, and society.

Google News: Provides access to 4,500 news sources

Google Reader: An excellent, and free, RSS Reader to help you centralize your news feeds

Google Alerts: is a service to alert you to relevant news articles, so you can stay on top of information without having to check multiple sites.


MEDLINE ( is compiled by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), and includes abstracts in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and health care. A subset of this database, PubMedCentral, contains free access articles, which you can view without subscriptions. To learn how to set up alerts, view the tutorial:

Subscription-based, multidisciplinary databases: (check if your library has them)

Academic Search Premier is the world's largest scholarly, multi-disciplinary database containing full-text articles for nearly 4,700 publications, and abstracts for nearly 8,200 journals.

MasterFILE Premier provides full text articles for more than 2,100 general periodicals in a a broad range of disciplines.

WorldCat, the world's largest

Historical Newspapers is a service that allows users to browse The Times and the New York Times via archives to provide access to a complete list of articles.

Web of Science includes five major databases: (1)Science Citation Index (SCI), (2) Social Sciences Citation Index(SSCI), (3) Humanities Citation Index, (4) Index Chemicus, and (5) Current Chemical Reactions. These five databases cover about 8,700 leading journals of science,social sciences, arts, and humanities.

Your professor and librarian will probably know more about specific databases for your field. Also sign up for news service alerts so you can keep an eye out for practical (and possibly profitable) applications of your research!

Do you know of online research tools you would like to share with other graduate students? How is your experience with online databases and alert services. We would love to hear from you. Simply click on the orange "reply" button. (You need to be logged in to see the button).

Wishing you the best,

Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet

Author: "The Smart Way To Your PhD:200 Secrets From 100 Graduates."

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