Five days ago, I completed my application to SACNASP, the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions. As I mentioned in a prior post, the application spans a fair number of documents. I thought it might be helpful to walk through some of the tools that I used to assemble the required documents.
Scanners were once luxury items for computer systems, but today we see them on many desktop systems in several guises. Perhaps the most common is the multifunction printer/fax/copier. If your computer is attached over a network to a photocopier, it’s probably possible for you to use it for image scanning. I purchased a CanoScan 8600F several years ago. It’s been a stalwart for me. I particularly appreciate that it can scan 35mm slides and negatives, which has helped me in archiving family photographs. For documents like those in the SACNASP application, I generally scan at a far lower resolution than the device maximum; 300 dpi is just fine. I needed the scanner to produce images of my diplomas as well as my graduate transcript.
Having some decent image editing software is necessary to field those scans. I use Paint.NET, a free tool for Microsoft Windows. I’m using quite basic functions (mostly cropping, resizing, file export, and the occasional layer rotate), so almost any graphics editor you could name would fill the bill. My usual routine with scanned documents is to drop the resolution by a factor of two (which cuts back some of the scanner noise), crop off any empty space from edges, and then save the image. I see significant overuse of the JPEG format among my friends. JPEGs are great when you’re dealing with photos, but they’re not right for most documents because they are better at preserving color than they are at preserving detail. Instead, I will frequently mash scanned black and white documents to gray scale and then save as GIF. In the case of my graduate transcript, I needed to preserve the light purple background and the dark purple border, so I mashed the color palette down to 256 colors and saved as GIF.
The two applications I’ve filed so far, from SAQA and SACNASP, have relied heavily on documents being submitted in PDF format. I’m too cheap to buy Adobe Acrobat Professional, so I installed BullZip instead. The free software acts like an extra printer for your computer, but instead of printed documents, it supplies PDF files. Once I had an image ready to go in Paint.NET, I could “print” it from within the software to a PDF file. BullZip also handled another task for me. I had downloaded the full copy of my Ph.D. dissertation, but the SACNASP application required only the title page and abstract page. I “printed” those individual pages from the dissertation PDF to separate PDF files. I couldn’t find my undergraduate honors thesis on-line, so I retrieved the WordPerfect document from my home office archives and imported it into Microsoft Word (a figure or two suffered in the transition). I then “printed” just the title page to a one-page PDF.
Great! At that point, I had each of the required documents in PDF format. SACNASP, however, did not want each document uploaded separately. Instead, they wanted my diploma and transcript scans in one document and the honors thesis / dissertation pages in a separate document. I was unsure how to handle that, at first, and I nearly punted the project to one of the administrators in my former department. Instead, I did a little reading, and I learned that BullZip will also merge separate PDF documents into a single one. I had to use the command line, but the result was gorgeous.
On July 13th, my application to SACNASP (along with a fairly substantial application fee on my credit card) was complete! Over the next week or so, the organization will be contacting the two people I listed as referees at Stellenbosch University. My referees will create documents that attest to my professional skills. Hopefully SACNASP will accept me as a new professional member. Then we can start the process of the critical skills letter. It will play a significant role in getting my temporary residence permit from the South African Department of Home Affairs!