Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Cell/Molecular Biologist’s Guide to iPad Apps

I’ve had my iPad for a little over 2 months now and in spite of craziness revolving around moving across the state and settling in, and gazillions of meetings to select a lab (yes really gazillions!) I’ve had a chance to play around with my new toy a bit.  A certain friend of mine has been prodding me to write this post for a little while, and since this weekend has been relatively relaxing thought I’d go for it.  Here’s my fictional day using my iPad as much as possible.  The links are mostly to the iTunes app store pages for the mentioned apps.

Firstly, I turn on Pandora. I trust you’ve heard of this app so I’m not going to elaborate on its awesomeness.  My world is never quiet unless I’m asleep, whether I’m working on or playing. Unless I forget my headphones – then I’m not a happy camper at work.  Guess I should buy a backup pair for there.

Like most scientists (and most people in general nowadays), I start my day by checking my email on one of my iOS devices (iPhone or iPad).  Great, nothing urgent….now I move onto twitter.  I’ve tried most of the common apps, and because of my tweet consumption style of wanting to try to read everything, Hootsuite is my favorite since I can consistently scroll back the furthest, though interface-wise I much prefer the Twitter app.  Depending on time I may also check on Facebook and Google+ using these native apps.

Next I check my calendar to figure out what I need to do today…I keep my schedule in Apple’s calendar app on my iPhone, which can sync with iPad over Mobile Me. However it is not super reliable (an observation shared by some of my online buddies) so I have not turned on calendar sync lately, and rely on my phone which never really leaves my side anyway.

For my task list, I’ve tried a few apps and I’ve settled on the free-mium Remember the

Remember the Milk Icon

Remember the Milk Icon

Milk one since its simple but flexible (eg you can designate “Waiting for” tasks, can change the dates).  Its also available for every platform, and lots of plug-ins for your computer and online activities (gmail and such) – check out the full list here. You can also organize tasks around locations to avoid making multiple trips to places that are close proximity to each other when running errands for example.  Unfortunately to sync more than 1 device with the website requires you to go “pro” for $3/month or $25/year.  The icon is not THAT cute 😉

OK so now I know what I have to do today….so I’m likely working away either at the bench (or nowadays in the hood doing hours of cell culture!) or at my macbook pro doing these tasks.  I’m trying to get into the pattern of Mondays being a day to read – my auto Pubmed updates are set to arrive on Mondays and so now I’ll delve into reading methods. Speaking of Pubmed, Pubmed On Tap allows you to search Pubmed and read full-text of open access papers/email link to yourself for later.  Pretty useful for when you’re out and you just have to know something…

All the glamor journals (Science, Nature, Cell) have ok apps for browsing the latest tables of contents, however to get full-text its not very straightforward to use an institutional subscription currently.  But at least I can make a note of interesting sounding papers using SimpleNote, which syncs with Notational Velocity on my Mac so I can download the full-texts when I’m on the network or connected via VPN at home.  I actually have half a folder full of journal apps that include some field-specific apps (including AACR publications, my professional society and NEJM – where I aspire to publish a paper during my postdoc!)

For a quick break from work reading I might grab a coffee and check out the news on the New York Times or use Flipboard or Zite for a cool, personalized view of news in a magazine format.  But I try not to get too sucked in.

Back to reading….next I might check out my RSS feeds for my journals. On my iPhone I use Net News Wire as my RSS reader, but unfortunately the iPad version is $9.99.  I personally don’t rely on RSS that much to be worth spending that much on.  Reeder is widely thought to be the best RSS reader on the iPad (though News Rack is a worthy contender in a sizable minority), and for $5 I was willing to download it.  Not only can you read your feeds, but there are sharing options galore (including social media sites twitter and facebook, as well as Instapaper/ReadItLater/Readability and plain old email too).  Speaking of Instapaper – that is a must-buy app for me!  It allows you to save articles for later reading from your desktop/laptop or from your phone and it strips out all the distracting ads etc. and downloads for offline reading later, which for us wifi-only iPad users is great for passing the time on long flights without wifi or while cramped in coach.  As I’m reading I find an article with a useful table which I think I would like to access later, so I save it to Evernote, a great information manager app, and give it some useful tags so I can search for it later either on my computer or phone/iPad.

After all this reading I’m needing some social interaction, so I open up Words with Friends free and play some words. I’m not very good at it compared to some of my friends and my dad, but its still fun.  Then I might see if anyone is on gchat to chat using BeeJive (the iphone version, since the iPad version is $10!).  Oh bummer everyone else is working so I guilt myself back into working….

Suddenly I get a push notification that a webinar I signed up to view is starting in 10 minutes.  So I launch the GoToMeeting app, and go to my email to get the code…and soon enough I’m signed into the webinar, and maybe I eat my lunch while watching, since I gotta be always multi-tasking while eating.

After lunch I go into the lab and begin my benchwork for the day.  I open Safari and browse to my Biodata lab notebook (hopefully soon to be a real iPad app per the biodata team) and see that I have a few things to accomplish today. Firstly I have to set up some restriction digests for my latest cloning project.  But what enzymes and buffer do I need????  Promega comes to the rescue.  Out of all the science-specific apps I have downloaded, this is the most useful in my field (and no I’m not being paid by Promega to say this).  There are a variety of tools including converters, videos about lab procedures, written protocols and protocol info regarding many of their products including catalog numbers if you’re just preparing for your next experiments…..so lets say I find the perfect kit for my study, I just copy the catalog number, open my email application and shoot our lab manager a message with what I would like.  Easy peasy!  Next I realize I need to setup some PCR reactions so I get everything out to thaw, and double check my conditions using the “melting temperature for oligos” tool in Promega.  Next task accomplished.

The other useful laboratory science app I’ve found is Invitrogen’s Daily Calcs, which as it sounds is focused on calculations.  There is some overlap with the promega app here, but also there is a useful cell culture reference for newbies including useful numbers like surface areas, volume of media to use etc…(we all remember the first weeks of cell culture when we were super-anal about every detail).  There is also a useful molecular weight lookup if you know the formula of the chemical.  If only there was a way to also lookup by name.  There you go Sigma – take my idea, link it to your huge catalog and #win!

While my PCRs are running, I open the cool HHMI bulletin app to read some science outside of my field, since a too-narrowly focused scientist can miss interesting new connections.  I read an interesting epigenetics article, which discusses modifications I’m not familiar with so I open EMD Millipore’s cool Histone Map app to learn more,

Histone map

Example of information from Histone Map app

and end up sucked into this fascinating world of nuclear biology for the next half-hour.  Ooops – I’m never escaping lab today at this rate!  Still, at the end of this exploration, I have a few questions ….what do I do?  I use Wikipanion to see what Wikipedia has to say….then I quickly make a post on Quora (using Social Questions) and visit EpiExperts, a cool new scientific community for epigenetics peeps (I’ll do a post on this later) in Safari to post them as discussion items.

OK back to my day.  Digests are done, PCRs are coming along. I check on my cells…everything’s good.  So I go back to my desk and start studying my flash cards I made in Evernote Peek (covered previously here) for my test on Friday.  And soon enough my collaborator from Asia is Skyping me to discuss some cool new data, since it’s the beginning of his day now. At the end of our call, he asks me to sign a form for a grant he is about to submit, so I open iAnnotate PDF and using my stylus add my signature, save and send it back to him in 2 minutes. Quite a productive day I’m having 🙂

I guess its home time soon.  I wonder what I will make for dinner?  So I browse epicurious and AllRecipes for some quick ideas, and prop my iPad up in the kitchen so I can follow along..  Once I’ve cooked my dinner, I sit down and select a movie to watch on Netflix while I eat and wind-down.  Then it’s a quick email , twitter and Words with Friends session before bed, and hopefully I remember to set my alarm (in Apple’s clock app) on my phone before falling asleep. But before sleeping I remember to check my bank account to see if I got paid so here I come Bank of America app.

That’s all peeps.  I have mentioned a lot of apps, but as you’ve probably gathered by now, I use my iPad mainly for consumption tasks, so I don’t have a personal recommendation on work software such as to create Office documents.  GoodReader seems to be a good basic choice, or if I were needing something I’d download Documents to Go. My laptop goes almost everywhere with me so right now this isn’t a huge need.

What are your favorite iOS apps fellow scientists?

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