Setting up Notion for Academic collaboration

We’ve recently introduced Notion for collaboration within our research group. Notion is knowledge management system where you can develop and store content in pages, organized in a series of relational databases. To leverage Notion’s full capacity, it’s crucial to set up the right structure.

In our Workspace, we organize our content into seven main databases:

Our main Notion databases organized in top-level pages

Pages within each database have the same properties and can be filtered consistently and linked to other databases.

At the most macro-level, we have the Projects database which contains large, multi-year cross-cutting efforts. Here is where we track funded research projects but also every PhD student or PostDoc as well as longer-term ongoing efforts such as managing our website and running our research seminar. The most important project properties are: timing, participants, and funding.

At the next level we have the Publications database. This contains an entry for every publication and also publication ideas. The most important properties of each publication page are the authors, timeline, and status. For status, we track publications through the following stages: Concept, Research, Writing, Revision, and Published. We thus display the projects page in a KanBan board.

Our Publications KanBan Board

Every publication undergoes various submissions as it moves through the publication process. These we manage in the Submissions database. Each submission or re-submission becomes a “submission” and all are linked to a publication. In addition to the “Publication” property, the Submission pages include journal, submission date, timeline, and status.

If the ProjectsPublications, and Submissions databases are the bins for the overall organization of our work, the remaining four databases contain most of the working content which goes into those bins.

Research Notes is our database for work products, reference material, and ongoing discussions about pieces of work relating to different projects, publications and submissions. This is our most flexible database where about 75% of our content lies. We classify Research Notes in to four main types:

  • general Research Note: Information about a particular scientific topic or calculation (e.g. summary of different ways to calculate a given metric),
  • Research Products: Discussions or content related to a specific publication and relevant only to that publication (e.g. draft figure and related discussions),
  • Admin Note: Notes that relate to more than one project and generally contain management information such as budgets or project guidelines (e.g. budget planning and job advertisments)
  • Project Note: An administrative note that relates to a specific project. (e.g. Reviewer feedback for a specific submission)

In addition, every Research Note has an Owner, Distribution list, Status, and importantly, tags.

Next we have the Meetings and Seminars database. Every meeting or seminar we have, we prepare for and share notes for within a Meetings and Seminar page which have the Convenor, Participants, Date, and with fields to link to relevant Projects, Publications and Submissions.

Pages which contain reviews a single article are contained in the Reviews database. Here, we write our own article reviews where we capture the main points as well as how it relates to our work. We also link each Review page to relevant Projects, Publications and Submissions.

Finally, we have the Tasks database. This contains tasks of varying sizes – everything from a PhD course to revising a figure for a given submission. The important parts of the task database are the timeline, planned hours, Status, Owner, and Assignee. We thus use this database to do everything from tracking commitments for a give PhD student to an overview of the Task timeline for a given Submission. We also link each Review page to relevant Projects, Publications and Submissions which helps us plan at different levels of granularity – from getting an overview of a PhD project to planning the timeline for a specific submission.

About Jessica Jewell

Jessica Jewell is an Assistant Professor at Chalmers University of Technology where she researches the feasibility of climate mitigation (
This entry was posted in Collaboration, Projects, Tasks, Workflows and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Setting up Notion for Academic collaboration

  1. Ali says:

    Thanks for sharing your academic workflow.
    Working with too many databases caused some problems in my workflow. Especially while importing anything with webclipper, or organizing the tasks. I now prefer one database for all projects-publications-submission- and others, then subcategorize them with tags or another property. You can put everything (except tasks) into a single database.
    Too many relation may decrease the value of database systems, because notion has only one-level hierarchy.
    I wish success in your works..


    • Aleh Cherp says:

      Thanks, Ali! It’s indeed very important not to have too many databases. Notion is so flexible that one can organise all work in just one database manipulating various properties and tags. The problem then becomes that there are too many properties. I think we kind of struck a balance of having a reasonable number of databases and their properties. This is echoed in GTD system which already presumes at least three types of entities: projects, tasks and reference materials. Well, one can think that we divide the projects into generic projects, publications and submissions and we divide reference materials into meeting notes, research notes and reviews.


  2. Pingback: Links Roundup #50 Notetaking Revisited: Notion - Personal Knowledge Management for Academia & Librarians

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