School Supplies for Graduate School?
July 29, 2014 6:04 PM   Subscribe

I start graduate school in a few weeks. Yay! Problem? I don't know what school and/or office supplies will be most helpful to me. Can you help me out? Do I need anything besides paper, pens, highlighters, and post its? What am I not thinking of here that may save my scholarly life later? If it helps any, I am in a non-STEM related field. Thanks so much!
posted by SkylitDrawl to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What degree are you pursuing?

Regardless, you could probably use a laptop.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:13 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

File folders? Are you in a field that will have you mailing stuff on your own dime? If so, maybe 9x13 envelopes?
posted by fiercekitten at 6:14 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

A very good calendar app that you will use scrupulously, or a pocket calendar if you insist.
posted by wintersweet at 6:16 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some way of organizing PDFs either physical ones or electronic ones. I think its way easier to start out with a good organizational system than to re-file after the fact.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:26 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Note cards can be a really useful thing to have for study drills.
posted by padraigin at 6:33 PM on July 29, 2014

-Whatever computer storage/backup you are comfortable with: a thumbdrive or dropbox subscription (or just attaching everything in a gmail email to yourself)

-lunchbox or snack containers and a fork/spoon you will really use for lunch and snacks if your schedule has you eating lunch on the go

-also a good to-go cup for coffee or tea if you drink those

-cooking devices for convenience, if you'll really use them (like a slow cooker for dinners or oatmeal, or microwave egg cookers--things like that could save time and money
posted by shortyJBot at 6:33 PM on July 29, 2014

Nthing a good storage/backup system that you're happy with, and nthing an electronic or physical system for keeping track of readings. You will likely have a LOT of reading to do, much of it in PDF form. Do you have a preferred method for taking notes in class?

You probably will want a laptop and whatever kind of software is relevant to your degree (although research student discounts on software before you buy anything). Maybe a printer at home if you don't already have one. A good sized, comfortable bag for carrying your laptop and other stuff around in (to class, to the library, to coffeeshops to work, etc.).

Do you have a nice workspace set up at home? That would be nice to get all set up and ready before school starts.

And of course you need a first-day-of-school outfit, and you need to take a photo with your backpack on by the door on the first day. :-) Congratulations!
posted by aka burlap at 6:45 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly, the supplies you need aren't that different from your previous classes. I do agree with previous commenters that you'll want to figure out how to file and organize PDF files for the articles that you'll be reading, and if you didn't already have good calendar system then now is the time to get one. Other than that you read, you take notes, you do research, you write. It doesn't really demand anything special.

You don't really even need a laptop if you don't have one already. It's better to take notes by hand, and there will be plenty of other computers you can use on campus.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:46 PM on July 29, 2014

A dedicated no-frills ereader that is not connected to the internet, so you don't have any excuses or distractions. I had to get through a lot of reading, all of it presented digitally. It was either print everything out or this. Make sure your device could do epub and pdf, and isn't locked to a ebook store.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:47 PM on July 29, 2014

And if you're in a program that isn't distance/virtual, buy a cheap, sturdy laser printer. Do not depend on campus printers for work you will turn in. (Also, being the person who owns a printer makes you popular.)

There's very little else I would say to buy. Try to free up some money for when you don't have time to cook or need cab fare to the library before they close.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:49 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are using a computer…
Endnote. Or an equivalent software tool that allows you to manage citations, bibliographies & references. You will save hours of time preparing bibliographies and references of the course of your study if you start using endnote software from day dot.
Also, an external HDD and routine for regular backups.
Another thing I noticed a big trend around lately is people taking photos of lecture boards/presentations during lectures rather than just taking notes, using smart phones or other devices.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:53 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you going into a program with a lot of reading journal articles? If you're like me, then you do much better with reading when you have a physical copy instead of an electronic one. Printing these at the library gets expensive. Finding a cheap home printing option with cheap replacement ink will make your life much easier in the long run.

Also, for textbooks I've found that Chegg is far, far preferable to buying some methods book that I'll never use again.

This is corny, but using your university's library system will be a huge help for doing things like literature reviews and research. Depends on the university, but finding a single text in the catalog that collects a bunch of reading on a topic, and then browsing the shelves around that text, and then working backwards and forwards through the citations is one of the primary ways I do research. Your campus librarians are trained in collecting the best resources on topics, so you should use their work.

This is free, but if you're writing literature reviews than Zotero is free, and (with experience in both methods) is far and away better than manually organizing citations.
posted by codacorolla at 6:53 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and before you buy software, I would check your university's office of technology and see if they give discounts on software packages. I'm currently using up-to-date versions of Photoshop and Office through a connection with my university. That's basically saving me hundreds of dollars, right there.
posted by codacorolla at 6:55 PM on July 29, 2014

Its also worth asking if your school library has a librarian elected specifically to help students in your course. Its worth an introductory session to learn how to manoeuvre through the online databases that your school (might) pay subscription to. For example you can probably access thousands of current, peer-reviewed journal articles through your library online services. Those journal articles can cost thousands of dollars each when you are working in a professional setting!

It can take some time to learn how to filter and search through online databases areas so it's worth looking into earlier on rather than later.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:59 PM on July 29, 2014

A chair that you can sit in for many hours a day without getting deep vein thrombosis.
A reading light that will allow you read for many hours a day without eyestrain.
If you need corrective lenses, a prescription that will allow you to read for many hours a day without eyestrain.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:26 PM on July 29, 2014

A three hole punch and a stapler.

I've accumulated an astonishing amount of paper during grad school. Some means of organizing and controlling it would probably be good.

The answer to storing PDFs is ridiculously long but descriptive file names (authors-title.pdf). It's way easier for me to move PDFs to the Papers folder and rename them than any of the software that's meant for organising papers.
posted by hoyland at 7:51 PM on July 29, 2014

A list of study spots? It might be useful to know the location of coffee shops, public libraries, cozy campus nooks, and other such places and also to know when they are accessible. Maybe you could start a document in google drive or something and keep updating it as you find new places to study?
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 7:56 PM on July 29, 2014

BOOK RENTAL SERVICE. I used book renter for my last 2 years. (I hate that I didn't do it from the start.)

Laptop and backup storage (online or otherwise.)

Totally agree to stapler and three hole punch.

Notebooks and good pens. (I personally liked to take all my notes in one notebook, then staple the relevant notes together for tests.) I never used highlighters. I prefer colored pens to highlighters. Also one notebook means less crap in your backpack.

Good headphones and possibly pandora, spotify, etc for studying in loud places.

A good backpack that has nice support, I liked a thin Ogio brand with an upper chest strap for support, but I also have a bad back. You also want to wear your backpack properly. It should sit up on your back, not down by your hips. Amazon and Overstock are good places to find name-brand backpacks for less.

Possibly your own printer. I really liked having my own printer. It saved me time running last-minute trying to get something printed at the copy shops on campus and having to pay for printing. A cheap laser-printer would be great since you probably will only be printing in black and white, then you don't have to deal with all the annoying properties of ink-jets. Then you can get color printing done at a copy shop.

A small umbrella is good if you're anywhere rainy. Something you can tuck in your backpack.

A good waterbottle. I like the metal Thermos ones.

Snacks and a map of where to get snacks/coffee. Middle of the day hunger is the worst for trying to focus.

A good calendar system. Either app or planner.

I didn't attend graduate school, but I did graduate with a BS about 2 years ago so this is all too fresh in my mind.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:06 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

A stapler. I use mine way more than you would think.

I love my laser printer. I have a Canon MF4350. I've owned it for seven years. I don't use it every day, but I use it often enough for it to have been worth every penny of the $250 or so I spent on it and the $60 once or twice a year for ink. The newer model is a lot cheaper than mine was.

A really big desk. I just have two desks next to each one another.

Two monitors for your computer. I also like hooking up this portable USB monitor as a third monitor sometimes. Also, it's great for conferences or travel with a laptop.

An external hard drive. Back up your data. I am serious - make backing up your data to physical media that you control a habit. Using a storage service like Dropbox is fine, but it's not good enough - you want to at least have copies of all the important stuff that you have created in your own possession, just in case.

I love my little sunlight lamp. It was very inexpensive for how great it is. The light is very natural looking.

I like having a calendar on my wall.

I am very visual and need to write things out and draw a lot. This giant pad of paper is a nice desk blotter slash always-ready pad of paper.

I like to use ultra fine sharpies for the aforementioned drawing.

This is the only pencil you'll ever need.

And this is the only pen you'll ever need.
posted by sockermom at 8:07 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

During coursework, I would have a binder for each class. I would print the required readings at the beginning of the semester, and put them in the binder. I also saved the pdfs in a dropbox folder devoted to that particular class. I would take notes during class by hand on loose-leaf paper that would later go into the binder. Many other people would take notes in moleskin-type notebooks or artists sketchbooks.

For research, I found post-it notes useful for flagging material in library books. After flagging the most significant material for my project and finishing the reading, I would begin taking notes, focusing on the places and information I had already flagged.

I also had a monthly planner. I found monthly more useful than weekly or daily because I could get a better sense of approaching due dates and prioritize projects accordingly.

My department had a microwave in the graduate student lounge. I would bring a ceramic mug and microwave water to make tea. It was really nice to be able to quickly, easily, and cheaply make tea. I also tried to keep some healthy and shelve-stable snacks with me---almonds were one of my favorites.

It was also important to have function bags to carry all that I needed to carry. I became a big fan of the backpack, and specific types of lunchboxes.
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 8:09 PM on July 29, 2014

posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:16 PM on July 29, 2014

A good backpack that has nice support, I liked a thin Ogio brand with an upper chest strap for support, but I also have a bad back. You also want to wear your backpack properly. It should sit up on your back, not down by your hips. Amazon and Overstock are good places to find name-brand backpacks for less.

Consider a backpack with a good thick hip belt - you want more than just a bare strap there. And then use the hip belt - it will help your back a lot. On top of possibly shoulders and rsi issues.

Set up your computer to save a copy of stuff in the cloud. Make sure this includes versioning so you have old versions and can't accidentally blow away your backup documents folder/file by uploading a new empty or corrupted documents folder/file. And, on top of that, make sure you have a copy of your email backed up to a local-to-you hard disk as well as the versions of the emails stored on a server somewhere.

Pick a professional looking email address that you can use for the next 30 years.

And this is the only pen you'll ever need.

Unless you write a lot. I like fountain pens - more specifically, I like the Pilot 78g. They're the only way I can read my own handwriting and my hand doesn't cramp. The 78g's have been replaced by the Pilot Metropolitan which should be fine.

Note that for notetaking many people mentally retain better with handwritten notes than with computer notes.

For computer stuff, make sure your setup is ergonomic. This includes stuff that works for you and, more importantly, make sure it's set up correctly.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:00 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a current grad student: I would really not buy anything in preparation, if I were starting again - wait until you get there and see what resources they have, what other students are using, and what you feel you need. Many/most? places will provide you with things like printers, notebooks, pens, etc. I don't need a backpack at all, since I don't use textbooks. I never use my laptop since my desktop is so much nicer to use and the computers in the lab are fine. Etc. Other people will need that stuff, as you see above.

Hard to predict without being in your workplace, and on a grad student salary, I wouldn't gamble with buying stuff you might not need. The stores aren't going anywhere, so it's not like waiting a few days will hurt anything. Even if you're worried about back-to-school sales, those usually continue well into Sept anyway.
posted by randomnity at 4:47 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Flags! I love them so much. I like basic ones like this and fancy ones too. When I wrote my thesis, I used the flags to color code for different chapters and ideas. It was heavenly to look at my research materials spread out and instantly visualize where I had lots of material and where I was lacking.

I printed everything out, so I also recommend (if you go that route) three-ring binders, binder clips, and a three-hole punch that won't break.

Also, I don't know if your state does a Tax Free Weekend, but ours in Tennessee is coming up soon. School supplies are tax exempt, so it's a good time to stock up on things you already know you love. Here's an article that lists states that do this.
posted by Mouse Army at 4:57 AM on July 30, 2014

I'm going to second what randomnity said. If your department has some sort of orientation, that would be a good time to talk to students already there; they can best tell you what you'll need. I brought a lot of things with me to grad school the first year that I really didn't need to.
posted by miguelcervantes at 7:25 AM on July 30, 2014

I had so much use for my Surface Pro in grad school. I print pdfs into OneNote, and then make notes onto them (and the pdf and my handwriting are all searchable). I take notes by hand for some classes in OneNote, and type in others. I would take notes by hand when meeting professors during office hours. It was light and easy to carry around when I was biking to cafes or across town.
I still have my huge laptop for working on, but it is nowhere near as versatile.

In general though, I would wait. You get a sense of the culture and expectations of what you need once you are there, and at that point you can order things. Even getting a printer is usually not necessary: the cost per print for me worked out to be far lower in the library rather than buying one.

Instead, prepare by reading for leisure, going off and having an adventure, and thinking about what you want to get out of grad school: it will go by fast!
posted by troytroy at 5:16 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

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