Strategies for Grad School

The Argument for Open Access

Publishing as a graduate student is already hard enough: Steeling yourself for inevitable rejection, bolstering yourself to submit again, and, of course, deciding where to submit in the first place. Unfortunately, deciding which journals to submit to is not getting less complicated; it is getting more complicated. In addition to variables such as journal readership, identity, prestige, and rejection rate, you must now consider whether a journal is open access (i.e., whether a journal makes its articles freely available to the public).

For the past several years, academics and academic journals have been having a conversation about who should be able to access scholarly writing and for what price. Here is a rundown of both sides of the discussion.

Academic Journals

Academic journals argue that they add value to the scholarly publication process.

  • High submission rejection rates and the peer review process help to ensure the quality of the scholarship that is ultimately published.
  • Editorial review helps to ensure that scholarship is clear, concise, and targeted.


Academics argue that the most basic principle of academia is the sharing of scholarship and that academic journals impede that aim by hiding scholarship behind a pay wall that is much too high.

  • So many journals now exist, that even the best research institutions cannot afford to subscribe to them all.
  • Articles and peer review are provided to the journals for free, and the journals have high profit margins while still charging libraries and individuals high subscription fees.
  • Much off the research that is hidden behind these paywalls is publically funded through taxes, but it is not available to the public.

Many researchers have become advocates of open access publishing and many academic publishers have even started open access journals. Open access journals are definitely a type of publication you will submit to and be published in throughout your career. Whether you should start as a grad student, however, depends on your field and your graduate school. Research publication trends in your field and then go to researchers at your institution to determine how important open access publishing is to your fellow researchers. A good guiding rule across most disciplines is to more seriously consider publishing with an open access journal when your research is publically funded.

Graduate Study and eBooks

Graduate school is all about making the most of the time and resources you have. One of those potential resources is eBooks. eBooks are usually evaluated for undergraduate use, but you have different needs than an undergrad and need different information about a resource before you decide to use it. The following article reviews eBook use with graduate study in mind.


The biggest question about eBooks is whether they are compatible with graduate study. Many undergrads find that eBooks are lighter, cheaper, and more convenient, but the same things may not be true for grad students. Reading takes up a large portion of the work you do in graduate school, and the material is academic in nature. This can be incompatible with eReaders, most of which were designed for leisure reading, and the books you need may not be available in eBook form.

eReaders allow you to highlight and type notes in the text, but this could either make note-taking faster or slower for you, and may or may not make the same connections in your brain to help you retain the information. With eReaders you are also likely to lose the cognitive mapping (using the location of information to remember it) that comes with paper books.

You will also have to read articles, conference papers, and dissertations downloaded from online databases. Tablets and laptops will likely be able to handle these files, but some dedicated eReaders will not, especially the less expensive ones. Also, many of these files are PDFs, so it will be harder to take digital notes in them.

One advantageous feature of eReading is the ability to search a text. This feature can quickly allow you to find every mention of a word or topic within a book. This didn’t used to help you search outside a text, for things like references, but new innovations like the Xray feature on some Kindles are beginning to improve this. The Xray feature is “a ‘smart glossary’ that provides links to extra content” on Wikipedia and Shelfari.


There is no denying the convenience of eBooks. You can store the books for your classes, research, and comps on a single device that fits into your book bag a lot easier than your last haul from the library. You also don’t have to worry about indecisive professors picking a book only days before you read it (or your own tendency to put off buying books until the last possible moment) because most eBooks have 1-click buy options and are available instantly.

Unfortunately, while these things are generally true, they are not universally true. The availability of the books you need is largely dependent on the eReading platform you own. Different publishers are available on different platforms, which means not all eBooks are available on every platform. Some platforms do not offer books for download and require you to be connected to the internet to read them. This means that reading away from Wi-Fi will require data, which can be costly.


Calculating the cost of eBooks can be tricky. If you don’t already own an eReader, it costs hundreds of dollars upfront to get one. It is also important to note that you might not be able to get all of your books on the same device, and even if you could, you might not get the optimal display for each book on a single platform. However, buying a laptop, a Kindle, and an iPad is cost prohibitive for most grad students.

Once you have a device though, it is generally thought that eBooks are cheaper than their paper counterparts. While this is often true of renting eBooks, it is far less true of buying eBooks, and more often than not, you will want to own your graduate books for future reference. Sometimes the eBooks can be purchased for 50% of the hardback price or less, but often the discount is only $10 or so.


Heavy backpacks are a big concern for undergrads because their classes are often spread throughout the day all over campus, and eBooks cumulatively weigh less than one pound, instead of five or more pounds each. However, heavy backpacks may not be as big a concern for grad students. Your classes are probably clustered in the same area, or building, on campus, some days you may only have one 3 hour night class, and you may even have a shared Teaching Assistant/Fellow office on campus where you could switch out books during the day.

While eBooks can lighten your load, they can also be harder on your eyes. In grad school you have to read for sustained periods to complete readings on time. However, reading on an electronic device for long periods of time can cause Computer Vision Syndrome, which includes eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eye, and pain in the neck and shoulders. These symptoms are more likely to develop when you read on an iPad, laptop, or multi-functional eReader (like the Kindle Fire) than on a dedicated eReader using eInk and a matte screen (like the original Kindle).

Environmental Impact

Although environmental impact has no direct relation to the success of your studying for grad school, it is still important information for a lot of graduate students. When considering the impact of eBooks and paper books on the environment, you must consider not only the energy and resources expended to make them, but also the energy and resources expended to get them to you. Paper books are created by cutting down trees and delivered to you through fossil fuels; however, electronics used to read eBooks are often made with conflict minerals and are powered by fossil fuels. Libraries and used bookstores are the most sustainable choices for reading, but they do not always have the rarer and more specific texts that grad students often need.

Sources and studies about the environmental impact of eBooks versus paper books have been largely inconclusive as they conflict with one another. Some studies indicate that you would need to read between 23 and 40 eBooks per year to make eBooks the better environmental option. However, dedicated eReaders, using eInk, are a more sustainable option than tablets or computers for reading eBooks.

The Best Coffee for Graduate Students

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy a caffeine boost from coffee on a regular basis. And if you’re anything like the average graduate student, then coffee is almost a life source for you. Coffee might be extremely important to you, but you might just be a casual drinker of the beverage. Whatever category you fall under, I wanted to provide some opinions as well as other resources to learn more about coffee and how to get the most out of it in grad school. Here are some suggestions of what I think are the better choices when it comes to coffee, but whatever you like best is what you should purchase/make.

Coffee at Home

When I have the time, I like to enjoy a break at home by making my own coffee. I understand that many of you who like to do the same might not enjoy making coffee the same way I do, but I like using my French press to get a great cup of coffee. There are many ways to make coffee at home, so don’t feel confined to your home coffee pot or instant coffee mix. Again, I enjoy using my French press when I have time, but there’s other equipment you could use at home to get your perfect cup, including a burr grinder, an aeropress, and even an espresso machine. If you’re unsure of what equipment to purchase, if anything, try visiting your favorite coffee shop and asking their workers how they like to make coffee at home and what methods they would suggest for you.

Besides good equipment, you’ll also want to get the best coffee to make from home. In his article, Jason Heppler wrote about how important it is to purchase coffee beans as fresh as possible. However, I understand that it’s pretty difficult to have the time, means, and funds to buy truly fresh coffee beans, especially for graduate students. I found two sites that provide great lists of store-bought coffee brands for all taste buds to enjoy. A writer from the Huffington Post wrote about the best French roast coffees, and Suzanne Rust, from, listed the best coffees of light, medium, and dark roasts in whole beans or ground coffee.

Coffee at the Coffee Shop

If you only have the time to go out and by a cup of coffee and don’t want to worry about making it from home, there are plenty of ways to learn how to order the best coffee for yourself. First, you’ll want to decide on what type of coffee shop you want to visit. Depending on your city’s surroundings and what’s available to you, either close to your campus or close to your home, you might or might not have many choices of coffee shops. Research the coffee shops that are close to you, and visit them to find out what type you like.

The next thing to do is to figure out how exactly to order from coffee shops. If you’re a beginner drinker/buyer of coffee, it might be intimidating to see a bunch of words you’ve never heard, so start simple. I suggest asking the barista (the title of the coffee makers) about what he/she recommends for people who don’t often order for themselves, or you could ask for their most popular drink. On the other hand, if you’ve ordered from coffee shops before but haven’t enjoyed what you’ve received, visit the Daily Meal’s website, which gives you a description of many different types of coffee that you can order from coffee shops. Also, look over this article, which is about how to order from coffee shops and about the things to focus on when ordering your drink.

Coffee Around the World

If you don’t know much about the history or industry of coffee, you might not realize that coffee from different countries has different tastes. For instance, I enjoy coffee from Colombia because of the mild flavors and its versatility from French press to espresso shots. I also enjoy Guatemalan coffee because of its rich and slightly spiced flavor. If you want to learn more about what other countries and regions of the world have to offer in their coffee, visit the National Coffee Association’s website. You can get different countries’ coffee from a number of places, including local grocery stores, coffee shops, and online. Personally, I order my coffee online from artisan coffee roasters in California.

How does your energy get lifted throughout the day? What, specifically, would you recommend to other readers?


Types of Academic Publishing

In academic publishing, there are several avenues available for publishing your work. Each avenue has particular qualities, expectations, and restraints that lend itself to a particular type of work. The four primary categories are theses, academic journals, books, and grey literature.


As a graduate student, the type of publication that will be consuming most of your time and energy is the thesis. There are different names for the types of theses required for different programs (e.g., dissertation, capstone) and requirements are often specific to the needs of your discipline. What theses have in common, however, is that they are the lengthy end work you must produce, and have confirmed by a committee, to complete your graduate degree. Theses are usually made available to others through online databases, but other than that, theses cannot be published in books or journals without being reworked.

Journal Articles

Journal Articles will be your bread and butter as an academic. In a “Publish or Perish” environment, journal articles tally up a lot faster than books do, and they allow you make more concise, contained arguments. If you can start publishing in journals while you are still in graduate school, you are ahead of the game (some fields actually require this).

Most academic journals have a highly specialized or specific subject matter which they publish content on. Journals also come in a variety of formats: print, online, subscription-based, open access, free for authors to publish, fees for authors to publish, and everything in between. Regardless of format, however, a good journal will have their submissions peer reviewed. The peer review process is what gives credibility to your work and what ensures the quality of articles published in the journal.


Books are the appropriate format for making sustained arguments. Writing and publishing a book requires a substantial commitment to one subject or one argument. The payoff, however, is that you have the space to include all the background, complexity, and counter-argument that you need to support and converse with your work.

Academic publishers, like academic journals, specialize in subject matter; they develop an identity and credibility around one genre such as history, social science, or literature research. Most academic publishing houses are small: They likely publish a catalog of 12 or so books a year, and some of those books are probably more commercial in nature as funding for academic presses simply isn’t what it used to be. The upside? Each press is part of their tight-knit academic community and has relationships with many of the community’s authors; once you get their attention initially, you have the opportunity to form a close relationship with an individual press.

Grey Literature

Grey literature is scholarly writing that has not been formally published, and instead it is printed out or posted on the internet. This includes handouts and power points at conferences, researcher notes, academic blogs, and other similar mediums.

While grey literature does not contribute toward your list of publications in your field, it is an important part of sharing knowledge with the rest of the academic community. It allows you to engage with your peers in a less formal environment. Here you can field ideas, or flesh them out, or simply connect with other academics who share them (which could find you your next co-author). Grey literature is like an appendix: It supports the rest of the work being done around it.

Low Pressure Ways for Grad Students to Network at Their Universities

People are constantly telling you it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. However, you have come to realize that it is neither what you know, nor who you know; it’s both. Without connections, you will be hard pressed to find guest speaking opportunities, funding, or collaborators. Without insightful and exemplary work, you will have little to attract connections to you. As a grad student, there are plenty of low pressure situations in your department where you can develop connections to other people in your field.

Defining “Networking”

“Networking” really only means making connections with other professionals in your field. This includes the traditional method of cold-calling prominent speakers at conferences, but that isn’t the only method available to you. Some of the most successful and enduring “networking” is little more than socialization. Talking to potential contacts in low pressure environments is often a more successful strategy than on the floor of a conference with several thousand attendees. You don’t have to pay for an expensive trip to a conference to network either because there are plenty of opportunities to network right at your own university in your own city.

Who to Network With

Networking should include a wide variety of connections because different people, with different jobs, bring different opportunities to the table. Networking should also include connecting with people at the same level or below you in the hierarchy of your field because these more equally-footed connections are easier to make than connections with the leaders in your field, and have more potential because the junior contributors to the field will have more time to get to know you and more attention to give to your work. Also, just as you will advance in your field, so will they.

Participate in the Publishing Process

Journals are a big part of Academia, and getting involved in the journal publishing process as a reviewer is a good way to develop valuable contacts. However, the ability to get involved in journals does depend on your field and university to some extent because some have closer ties to journals than others.

Literary journals provide opportunities for grad students involved in creative writing. Literary journals receive so many submissions that they need people to tell the editors what is worth their time and what isn’t. Working or volunteering for a literary journal will allow you to connect with the other writers, editors, and professors connected with the journal in an environment that is relaxed.

Academic journals provide opportunities for grad students involved in academic or scientific research and writing. Getting involved with peer-reviewed journals is more difficult, but not impossible. PhD students are sometimes asked to serve in the peer-review process. The likelihood of this goes up greatly if your work has been previously published, especially if you have published with the journal you are wanting to peer-review for. There are also journals that have student editorial boards or are run entirely by students.

Attend Department Events

Your department likely host events with visiting authors or guest speakers who have something interesting to contribute to your field. These events are great opportunities for low pressure networking.

Usually, these sorts of events involve several components which can include a Q&A session, a lecture, reading, or presentation, and book sales and signings. After the official event, however, the guests don’t always leave. Frequently, the organizers, guest, and attendees will go to a restaurant, bar, or professor’s home to eat, drink, and socialize.

Choose guests whom you admire or find interesting, and then try to go to most of the academic and social components of the event. This way you can get to know the guest, and the students, professors, and coordinators at your university, on both a professional and personal level.

Another good way to use these events for networking is to help out with them. A lot goes into planning these events such as acquiring speakers, booking travel, lodging, and venues, recording and uploading video of the event, and more. Offer to help with the preparation and execution in general, and if you have particular skills, connections, or equipment, offer those as well. Helping out will likely get you more face time with the guest and will definitely get you more face time with your peers and professors who are coordinating the event.

Socialize Outside of School

Another low pressure way to network is to spend time with your peers and professors outside of school. This is a great way to develop relationships with other people in your field. Sometimes there will be events related to your field going on in town: Go to them, and try to carpool. If a local bar has a trivia night where departments from the university have unofficial teams, join yours even if you are bad at it, or if your department doesn’t have a team, start one. Go to parties where a lot of people from the department will be. Host a game night for people from the department. Start a small group that meets occasionally to review and critique one another’s work. Getting to know your peers and professors, and them getting to know you, not just as a professional, but as a person, will strengthen your connections and make it more likely that you will get the help or hand up you need, when you need it.

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