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Susanne Reffert | IPMU | Japan

View Blog | Read Bio

The Paperless Physicist?

Already for a few years, I have been scanning all my more important handwritten calculations and notes. Like this, they can be accessed online by myself and my collaborators whenever needed. Unlike some colleagues who proudly display a 30cm thick layer of papers covering every available surface in their offices, I generally try to avoid mountains of paper in my workflow. I tend to only print out scientific articles I really need to work with, while papers I just want to look at I read on the screen.
Recently, I even eliminated several kilos of old lecture notes and calculations, dating back until my undergrad days. With the help of the fabulous ScanSnap by Fujitsu, it was feasible. This little document scanner has an automatic document feeder and can even scan duplex in one go! While I doubt I’ll ever need my calculations from 6 years ago again and scanning them was simply a maneuver to be able to let go of the physical object, I think some of my old lecture notes might actually come in handy. As PDFs, I can just keep them on my laptop and have them always accessible.
Digitizing all my old notes and calculations helped me get rid of a lot of dead weight and made me more mobile, but of course a sound back-up strategy is a must!

Going through these piles of old paper, I naturally started wondering whether it wouldn’t be easier to avoid the detour through the dead-tree-form altogether. Are handwritten notes still a good idea nowadays? Some of my colleagues with tablet PCs have been taking notes directly on their computers for years. These days, the iPad seems to be a good option: relatively small and light, you can use it like a note pad. I have to admit I am tempted. Also as a PDF reader, it seems very convenient.

Yet I wonder if for some serious calculations and problem solving, scribbling on paper is not a necessary step in the process.

Has anyone already tried to switch all note-taking and calculations to the computer? Is it working out for you? I’d like to hear of the experiences of other people.

P.S. If you ever intend to scan all your paperwork, do yourself a favor and don’t staple stuff together. You’ll be thanking yourself one day…

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