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).
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.
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 realsimple.com, 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?