As more labs and offices are closing and people are told to stay and work from home, we thought we could share a few tips and tools that we use at Phage Directory that help us get work done both when we’re working from our homes and when we’re together on the road.
How we get work done (remotely or not)
1. Write everything down in a place you can easily access
All the notes we record — from conferences to field notes with researchers — are recorded in Notion, our “lab notebook.” Notion is a productivity tool that we use to write down all our findings, ideas, business plans, processes. It’s also where we write down our thoughts, track our tasks, and how we organize our Capsid & Tail articles and guest contributions. For example, here’s our Notion draft of the article that you’re reading right now.
If you’d like to try out Notion, please sign up using our referral link (this supports us as it helps us get credits!).
2. Process is key to getting work done
This is an area we’re continuously improving. For a two-person team to publish a weekly newsletter like Capsid & Tail every week, we’ve created processes using Notion to share links, draft and proof each issue, and to get the issue published both online and sent to our readers every week through Mailchimp. After 66 issues of Capsid & Tail, we’re still constantly tweaking our publishing process to be as fast as possible!
3. We default to face-to-face meetings
We prefer in-person meetings, as they feel more personal, but because the phage community is so spread out, most of our meetings are hosted online. We use video conferencing tools like Zoom, Skype, and Whereby (depending on what other people have access to), which all support multi-person video calls.
4. We use Slack for real-time work
We prefer using email for regular communications, but for casual, real-time conversation, we prefer using Slack. Slack allows us to for example work out project details quickly with a group of people without getting overwhelmed in long email threads. (Join our slack group!)
5. We use Airtable for organizing data
Airtable is a data organization tool that’s part Excel, part database. It helps us keep track of the hundreds of researchers we’ve met, and helps us keep tabs on the landscape of phage companies, phage products, and clinical trials. Airtable also runs our site content, including our list of phage hosts, labs, researchers, and organizations, and each of our weekly Capsid & Tail articles.
If you’d like to try out Airtable, please sign up using our referral link (this supports us as it helps us get credits!).
Online community tools
What does the term “online community” mean when it comes to getting work done? In the programming world, we have been getting work done through “online communities” for decades. We have tools that allow developers to work with each other from across the world — we have tools that allow us to share and build upon each other’s code, and comprehensive knowledge bases that collect other developers’ questions and answers over time.
Here are some online community tools which I use on a daily basis to keep Phage Directory running:
Github lets developers upload, share, and comment on code. Anyone can download code that’s already been written to either study it or to use it as a part of their own projects.
This type of code sharing, called “open source”, lets developers use code that others have written as building blocks to create their own projects. Open source allows a single developer like myself to rapidly build large projects like the Viruses of Microbes Abstract Portal, or the Phage Directory website. Phage Directory runs on many open source projects, and is itself open source! Here are the tools we use, and here is our Github.
Stack Overflow is a resource where developers ask and answer each other’s technical questions. These questions are citeable and searchable, so over time, most programming questions can easily be found with a quick search. As a developer, I use Stack Overflow several times a week to find quick algorithms and code samples to build Phage Directory.
Medium is a blogging tool many developers and designers use to share tutorials, coding ideas, and design techniques. It’s not as rigorous as academic journals as it’s not peer-reviewed and it’s completely free to publish and free to read, so the quality of writing can be mixed. However, quality articles can be found on Medium, like this one on Coronavirus. As a designer/developer, I read Medium every day to keep my skills sharp and to stay updated.
Science community tools
The science community has gained a few incredible tools in the last few years, though they’re not yet as robust as the ones found in the tech world. Here are a few science and community tools that we frequently use:
Protocols.io is an open protocols-sharing site that has gained a substantial following in the last few years, and has received funding from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. If you have a protocol question, chances are you’ll find it there. Take a look at Jessica’s Campylobacter/phage protocols here.
Twitter is a place for people to voice their thoughts, and “science Twitter” is the community of scientists who are active on twitter. Unfortunately there isn’t really a page or a group to link to. To find the latest phage topics, search using phage as the keyword. Additionally, here are some great “science Twitter” and “phage Twitter” accounts to follow:
Phage community tools
The phage community has a few additional community resources as well:
Building more tools for the phage community
In the coming months, we’ll be thinking about how we can provide community tools for the phage community. Building the Viruses of Microbes abstract submission portal has been our most recent project with this goal in mind.
What kind of community resources and tools do you think could help information and data sharing in the phage world? If you have any ideas, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org — we’d love to hear your thoughts!