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).
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.
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.
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 Writers– Most 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.