Never mind EndNote, I want a Mind Palace

A little bit of whimsy here, I grant you. There’s been a lot of talk round here about Mind Palaces recently; not only due to the popularity of the latest instalment of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ Sherlock episodes, but also because fair old chunks of each show are filmed in and around Cardiff University. In particular, the Mind Palaces of both Sherlock and the series finale’s Murdoch-esque villain Charles Magnusson utilised the university’s library spaces (with one friend then posting to her Facebook page that it “Turns out the library I work in is an evil mind palace”). Rather than be (too) distracted by location-spotting, however, I found myself staring at the television during that last episode just wishing that I could have a Mind Palace.

Perhaps EndNote should have been my Mind Palace, that repository where I could go to recall everything I have read in the past two and a half years. But it doesn’t work like that, does it? I started to use EndNote in the early months of the first year of my PhD. I went on an ‘Introduction to EndNote’ course offered by the University of Sheffield library, and duly marked it as an achievement on my Training Needs Analysis. I began to log everything I read. Then I tried using EndNote to ‘cite while you write’ in Word. And hated it. It was clunky, and it just wouldn’t format things in the way I’d like. So I stopped using it. Entirely. As I moved towards the upgrade at the end of my first year, I completely forgot about it, moving swiftly from upgrade proposal to fieldwork without a second glance.

Now, in ‘writing up’, I’m faced with a dilemma. A dilemma I was warned about by other PhD students, by academics in my own department, by my MA supervisor from another university: my records are incomplete. I try to search my Mind Palace but it turns out I’m no Sherlock Holmes (no surprise there then). I shifted to Zotero on the advice of various members of the online PhD community I sometimes stumble into, which I find less frustrating but I still just don’t use properly. If the tools are out there then why do we insist on snubbing them? I certainly don’t think it can be a belief in our ability to effectively store the reams of books, articles, policy documents and the like in our own brains. There just seems to be a natural propensity to shy away from things that actually make our lives easier. The trouble is, I just don’t really have a solution to this (aside from hoping vainly that one day I’ll wake up and discover that my Mind Palace was there all along. Hiding. Just out of sight). So I suppose this is both a note to self – to buck up my ideas and use those tools available to me – and a call for advice: do any fellow PhD-ers (or indeed those who have survived the process) have any top tips for effective reference-keeping?

Sherlock

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