One-on-One with Jessica Hammer, Game Researcher at Columbia University

Jessica Hammer, a Mellon Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Fellow at Columbia University, shares her candid thoughts about Mendeley. Thank you, Jessica, for taking the time to chat! You’ve helped us to kick off what may be a brand new series of Mendeley stories – as told by our users themselves.

Tell us about your research interests
Officially I study psychology, but games, stories, community, race, gender, learning, technology and creativity are all part of my larger research interests. My focus is on investigating how technology interventions influence the way that people think, feel and behave.  Right now, I’m working on how games can help people adopt new ways of thinking about race and gender.

How did you find about Mendeley?
As recently as 2008, I was very unhappy with my reference management system. I had accumulated thousands of documents and references over the course of eight years (some in grad school, some professionally), but I didn’t have a tool that could effectively handle the way I worked or the many types of documents I worked with. I had an enormous backlog, and I didn’t know what to do about it!

It was actually my backlog that, indirectly, helped me find Mendeley. A family friend was considering graduate school and asked me for advice. Among other things, I told her she needed to set up a reference management system that worked for her before she found herself in my situation. She called me back a few days later and asked if I’d heard of Mendeley. I tried it, and that’s how I tamed my reference life!

So why were previous tools not working out for you?
I found them ineffective because I really needed to support my work across different computers – my office desktop, my personal laptop, my lab computer. There were ways to synch, of course, but it just couldn’t make the workflow fluid. It also didn’t handle weird reference types (games, for example) as well as I needed it to. Then I moved on to using another tool which had simple one-click feature when importing online references. I liked that feature but I didn’t like that it lived in my browser – I noticed the hit in performance right away! It also didn’t handle synchronization particularly gracefully.

How is Mendeley holding up for you then?
It’s been great. It lets me work the way I need to work – maintaining a consistent set of references across different machines, organizing documents of many different types, and the like. When it comes to solid, effective, well-designed reference management, you guys are on top of your game.

I’ve also started to explore the social features of Mendeley. For example, I’m using shared collections to keep up with a research project I’m collaborating on with other students, and I’ve started a private group to compile a bibliography on role-playing game research. The latter is something we’ll eventually release to the public – and it’s awesome we can use Mendeley for that, too!

I was going to ask what you like about Mendeley, but you’ve already answered that! Have you had any problems using our tool?
It’s mostly been working smoothly for me but I was recently frustrated with one thing.* In the past two weeks, it’s started printing my bibliography page incorrectly. Even though I double-checked my entries and everything, article titles are left out when I print. I’m going to flag this to support. This is not the type of technical problem that Mendeley should be having. Even though I’m sure this particular problem will be resolved, reliability needs to be job one.

Ouch! I’m sorry about the bug. Yes, contacting is the best way to get troubleshooting help. Just be sure to include your OS & Mendeley version in your message and let me know if you need further help. Now, let’s think ‘happy thoughts’…what’s on your wish list for future Mendeley updates?
I wish your team would continue to raise the accuracy of metadata on automatically imported material. Searching Google Scholar is a start, but even that often comes back with corrupted data! Second, I wish there would be a better way of labeling papers for myself. An example that comes to mind immediately is gmail’s label feature. Also it would be nice to have access to other people’s keywords and their notes on papers, but I’m sure there are privacy issues with that.

Last but not least, any advice for us on spreading the word about Mendeley?
Mendeley is so much better than any other tool I’ve tried. I think if you can get people to try it, it sells itself! Unfortunately, it’s hard to get people to change their habits, even when it would benefit them. I’d pay particular attention to educating young researchers about the importance of reference management, and show them why Mendeley really is the best thing out there. The best habit is one you never have to break!

*Editor’s Note
For an immediate fix, our support team has been addressing the problem by replying individual emails with a file that users need to save in C:Program FilesMendeley Desktopciteproc-js (or equivalent in their operating system / setup). This fix is included in the current development preview release.