What Grad Students Need

I applied to continue onto the Ph.D. program at UNL this semester and it got me thinking about what I would have know about grad school before beginning. I had lots of good advice, but most of it was from personal conversations. All that I could find online was either non-department specific or not that great, so I have created a list of what I would recommend all graduate students in history (most of it applicable to other humanities disciplines though). My list includes a good number of items, so I borrowed Cold Stone Creamery’s sizes to organize the things I “like” (not essential things, but I would still recommend), I love (things I need, but some may be able to get along without it) and I gotta have (I think everyone should have and could not function without, much like Cold Stone’s incredibly large portions).

Like it

Pet- Because friends and family will not find your research as interesting as you will, I think having something that will always listen to your ideas helpful.

Google Docs– Accessing documents on the web from anywhere is very useful. There are other services that may fit your needs better too though (dropbox).

Amazon Student Prime– Free, fast shipping for anything shipped by Amazon (meaning not used books). It is free for a year so worth a try.

Twitter– Great tool for staying informed, especially if you can find some professors in your field.

Firefox– My browser of choice. I have heard Chrome is good too, but I am already stuck in my ways.

Notebook- Good for random thoughts and ideas to follow up on. I also use scrap paper, but that gets lost easily.

Love it

Camera- Great for archival research (when allowed). I also hear the camera is popular for its non-academic uses.

H-Net– The H-Grad listserv (Grad students only) is great for moral support and tips for surviving and the other topical listservs give insights into the field’s current discussions and happenings.

Organizer- Lots of appointments, meetings, deadlines and other time sensitive items to remember make some sort of calendar system essential.

Evernote– A free, OneNote-type program. Good for organizing scans of research, although I might be forking over the money for OneNote when it comes to writing the dissertation.

Bookshelf- Historians have lots of books and ideally they have somewhere to put them, but even with multiple bookshelves and some books stored at my parent’s house I still have books all over the ground. I know some students will use the library to save money, which can also be a good idea, but buying and selling books (or renting which is becoming popular) is a waste of time and money. In all likelihood, you will need to use many of your books more than once and buying and selling (on a loss of some amount) means a total loss on the next time you have to buy the same book.

File Cabinet- Underrated item in my office area. Good for storing the notes from classes and talks that I like to hold onto, as well as paperwork for important things like student loans and taxes.

Pandora– Free (for 40 hours a month) music tailored to your tastes and mood through which I have found tons of new songs that I like.

Nice Headphones- I like listening to music while working (see above), which makes headphones vital for late night work sessions (when you could easily annoy a neighbor or roommate).

Delicious– A social bookmarking tool that I find useful if for no other reason than I can bookmark something on one computer and have it saved on all of the computers I use.

Gmail– Free, virtually unlimited space that can give you a professional looking email, regardless of how little your university thinks you need one (UNL gives all students @huskers.unl.edu addresses, I mean really?).

Gotta have it

Zotero– Collects and stores citations as well as creates footnotes and bibliographies with a Word plug-in. It will save you a ton of time at 5am (or an hour before the deadline)

Professional Dress Clothes- For men this means a suit and blazer/jacket. Women should probably go elsewhere for clothing advice, though I still would suggest a suit and jacket as also valuable investments. You will go to a conference/speech/presentation/meeting/something that requires professional dress during grad school and part of any job is looking the part.

Home Internet Connection- I did my senior year of undergrad without internet and it was a pain. I could not even imagine trying to do grad school without working from home.

Portable Computing Device- I actually bought a desktop when my laptop from undergrad crashed, but I learned very quickly that for research/breaks/other travel, I needed something portable on which to work. I went with a netbook (under $200, very portable, but also something I would not want as a primary computer). Having two computers sounds expensive, but PCs desktops and netbooks are both incredibly affordable, especially when compared to Macs (though if you have the money go for it).

Kate Turabian’s A Manual for WritersMost of the basic citation information is online somewhere or another, but I find having a complete (though mine is now slightly outdated) version allows me to find the answer to even my most perplexing citation questions.

6 responses to “What Grad Students Need”

  1. Great list Brian. I totally agree with the entire list. I think your priority of needs of grad students is perfect.
    On a side note, you might want to upgrade from Evernote sooner rather than later. FYI – students can get the latest version of MS Office Professional Plus for only $20 at the UNL Computer store. It includes OneNote (and everything else).


  2. Although we’re in obviously (and extremely) different types of grad schools, it’s kind of amusing to note the complete lack of overlap in academic “supplemental tools” that we rely upon. For as often as I feel sorry for myself, I’ve just realized that I have not made a single literary citation in 6 months. Hell, I’m not sure I’ve opened up a Word document. I suppose the difference is between finding and gathering information to propose new information (what you presumably do), and continuously, rapidly pooping out the same information which was fed (what I absolutely do). Really, seeing all the things you have to store and analyze makes me think that my job, and my “gotta have it” list that begins and ends with “coffee,” seem a whole lot easier.


  3. Great list Brian!
    Along with (or instead of) Zotero and Delicious/Evernote, you might try Mendeley and Diigo.
    Also, Google Reader can make a good long-form supplement to Twitter for keeping yourself informed.


  4. Great list Brian – there are definitely some helpful tools on here.

    I agree with your take on the unprofessional nature of huskers.unl.edu (it used to be bigred.unl.edu….even worse). I was just looking at some emails from the GSA and I noticed that someone had the address math.unl.edu. I wonder if it would be possible to get a history.unl.edu email going?

    I also wanted to parrot what Rob said – I’ve had the $20 version of Office since 2008 and I just started using OneNote about a month ago. I’m still kicking myself about it. It’s definitely worth the $20 to have the real thing.


  5. What this grad student needs is to see screenshots of your Evernote Notebooks. I have just acquired it to assist in my research, but I don’t really know where to begin!


  6. […] year graduate students. While I’ve blogged on this topic before, in two different posts (here and here), I wanted to add some thoughts. I’ll break it down by […]


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