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To librarians from a PhD researcher

By Christian DeFeo, Elsevier | Apr 04, 2017

Christian DeFeo, PhD

This article by Christian Defeo follows on from his March 16 Library Connect webinar with Eleonora Presani, “12 time-saving tips for research support.” Christian earned his first PhD (Creative Writing) from the University of Southampton in 2010, and is presently working on a second PhD (Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering) at Loughborough University. He works for Elsevier as a Product Marketing Manager.


As a PhD researcher, the help and advice I get from my librarian colleagues is critical to my success. In 2007 when I was beginning my first PhD at Southampton, I was full of questions: How do I do a PhD? How do I organize my information? How do I properly catalog and use references? What help is available? Fortunately, the librarians had answers.


Over time the librarian’s advisory role to researchers has continued to grow in importance. The librarians at my current university have not only provided answers to my questions, they have also given me information on how to store and protect data, how to use references more effectively, and how to network with other researchers, which will help expand the scope of my studies and ensure the novelty of my work. At Loughborough, the librarians host a series of seminars for the benefit of research students to advise them on best practice; my understanding from colleagues at other leading universities is that librarians play similar roles there. 


In the time since I finished my first and began by second PhD, there has been considerable evolution in the tools available, specifically, their scope and functionality. It was at a librarian-led seminar that I was advised to use ORCID; this has proven to be an ideal cross-platform resource for storing information about my degrees, research publications and job roles. ORCID now integrates with the Mendeley ecosystem. You merely need to access Mendeley via the web, log in, view your individual page and add the information by clicking “Edit” next to “Other IDs.” 


Librarians also recommended I use Mendeley as a reference manager. It allows me to index, annotate and refer to documents I’ve read or will read. As I’m writing academic papers in Word, I can utilize the Word plug in to add references into the body of the text in a broad variety of formats. It can also insert a bibliography for me at the end of my document. 


Mendeley’s ecosystem continues to expand. The website provides useful suggestions based on my information, including journal articles based upon the topics I’ve been reading about and academics whom I might want to contact. Additionally, I can find the leaders in my field of research and see to whom they are linked and forge working relationships. This is particularly important. Although research is often portrayed as a solitary endeavor, with the proverbial lone scientist bent over a microscope, more often it’s a collaboration between many academics sometimes on different continents. Preserving the novelty of one’s research is often a matter of teamwork.


The librarians at Loughborough have been keen to stress the importance of effective research data management. Research bodies often seek data just as assiduously as finished journal articles in return for their investment. It’s of critical importance to colleagues in the field of biological research; fortunately, there are tools like Hivebench, an electronic lab notebook that allow researchers to publish the data they acquire in their experiments. I can also store the data I acquire during my engineering studies on Mendeley Data.


Doing two PhDs has given me a unique perspective on the work of a researcher. While the research environment is ever changing, what remains critical and constant is the support I’ve received from librarians. The tools they recommend and the advice they dispense are creating the researchers of tomorrow.