Graduate School Advice Series: 10 Indispensable Gear For PhD Students

With this gear for PhD students you will not only look good, but also do great work in an effective way. Who said that in graduate school you had to buy the cheapest and ugliest equipment?

This gear I use everyday and I am really happy of having paid every single penny they cost. When you are using great products you enjoy your work much better. This is a collection of hardware, software and items of the highest quality and usefulness.

They are not necessarily cheap, but owning quality has a price. You could see this gear for PhD students more like a long-term investment.


Macbook Air 13 Inch

The Macbook Air 13 inch has everything you need. Robust, light, fast, and yes, sexy. You can carry it around without noticing the weight. Its durability will make it the only computer you will end up buying in graduate school, even if you are a bit delayed in graduating.

If you are a heavy commuter really weight conscious, you can go for the 11 inch, although you’ll have a smaller screen and a somewhat less nice keyboard, which is a bit uncomfortable to type when it is resting on your lap.

If you are going to run some heavy calculations, like simulations or data processing, you are better off with the Macbook Pro (like the one I use). All at the expense of some extra weight.


Do not go to bed without writing your to-do list for tomorrow. And do not write it anywhere else but in Wunderlist.

Wunderlist is the simplest to-do list you can find. Not only this, it syncs all your tasks across web, different computers, smartphones and tables.

After having a time management crisis where I tried every single to-do list software, I ended up using Wunderlist because it was the one that felt the most natural.



This is my fetish piece of software. Evernote is the one tool do-it-all. I use it to clip every piece of info I find on the internet and to jot down notes while at conferences. This is must have gear for PhD students.

You can also use to keep track of the progress in your projects. Or, to snap photos of scientific posters at conferences and query later on the text that was in the poster.

It’s so versatile I could be hours listing different ways of using it. Luckily the book Evernote Essentials did it for me, so if you want to know how to squeeze the last drop of Evernote and carry all your digital lab in one tool, get Evernote Essentials.



While I like to go paperless, having always with you a good piece of paper  is important. I always have my Moleskine Pocket next to me. I also have a larger Moleskine to write down larger schemes, like those I use to prepare blog posts.

You are going to have those brilliant ideas that you need to sketch immediately before they vanish. Write them down in a stylish Moleskine. Sometimes I find opening a laptop to take notes in a meeting a bit too intrusive, it creates a barrier between you and the rest of attendees.  But if I use pull out my Moleskine and write some ideas nobody gets annoyed.

Apart from all these reasons, somehow I find that writing on a paper an idea helps me memorize it better that if I type it on a keyboard.


The 4-Hour Workweek

Like Evernote is my fetish software, The 4-Hour Workweek is my fetish book. If you superficially look at it, you might think that it is just a scam book that teaches you how to get rich, quick and with no effort. Wrong!!

There are may books for PhD students, but if I had to recommend just one it would be The 4-Hour Workweek.

In its outer layer, the book is oriented to business, yes. But if you dig deeper it applies to every aspect in life. You can apply it to your PhD to learn time management, how to stay motivated during your PhD, how to achieve big things, how to focus on what matters, and much more.

Please, do yourself a favour and buy The 4-Hour Workweek right now and think how to use it in your daily life at graduate school, you will not regret it.


Sennheiser CX 300B Earbuds

Every graduate student needs a earbuds. Either to listen to music or to isolate yourself from the world, or both.

The Sennheiser CX 300B earbuds are the perfect gear for PhD students because they do 3 things very well:

  • They have great sound and great bass.
  • They isolate quite well the outside noise so you can enjoy your music and nothing but your music.
  • They are really cheap.


VanMoof Bike

Nothing will transport you around in a cheaper and healthier way than a bike.  Additionally, with a bike you avoid traffic jams. You also reduce your carbon footprint and get to campus faster so you can grow your academic footprint.

There is one think you should admire in a bike and it is simplicity. You want it to have the smallest number of components possible so there are less chances of something breaking down. Forget fancy breaks and 27 gears. They will get rusty and eventually cost you money.

Since you are going to get a bike, you can try to combine simplicity and style. This is why I bought a VanMoof, the best bike from The Netherlands ( a country famous for its bike-loving people and its design). Isn’t it beautiful?

If you can’t get a VanMoof, you should consider a fixed gear bike, or “fixie”. They are simple and come with flashy colors that will keep heads turning as you pass by.


Alchemy Goods Pike Messenger Bag

Since we like to move in style we also like to carry our belongings also in style. The Alchemy Goods Pike Messenger Bag does this and also gets you extra kudos for being environmentally friendly, since it’s made of recycled bike tubes.

Such material makes this bag tough, durable and waterproof. You can carry your Macbook and some other belongings safely in this bag. It can even carry several days worth of clothes in case you need to put several all-nighters in a row at the lab.



Telescoping Poster Tube

Not as sexy as the products above, this telescoping poster tube will be essential gear for PhD students. You will be attending conferences, and let’s be honest, successful PhD students start their careers presenting posters before giving keynote talks. You will need to carry your posters safely.

People pay full attention to the preparation of  a scientific poster the days before a conference. Only when they have to pack it (30 min before going to the airport) they realize they don’t have a poster tube. They run hysterically around the lab asking everybody “have you seen a poster tube I can borrow??”. This won’t happen to you with your won poster tube.

Since you can carry many posters in one tube, you can offer that other PhD student for who you have a crush to carry her/his poster in your tube. What a smooth move. Well played!

Understanding Partner

The last piece of gear for PhD students might be a bit surprising, an understanding partner. A partner that can calm you down when your stupid experiments failed. A partner that is far enough from your PhD to provide that much-needed logical advice.

Your fellow graduate students know very well how writer’s block work. But you need your partner to be understanding when you ask for complete isolation during 2 weeks so you can write that draft.

It helps if your partner is also busy with a PhD. If not, try that your partner mingles with your colleagues, so he/she can see others complaining about the same issues. After a while he/she will understand you are soft, but just suffering the symptoms of the PhD syndrome.


Thinking Of Applying to Graduate School? Check These Sample Letters For Graduate School

When applying to graduate school you are going to submit several letters. The goal is to give a good impression and get invited for an interview. You should adapt  to your needs a sample letter that has been successfully used.

[note color=”#efdcde”]Check our letters for graduate school, which include a statement of purpose for graduate school and a recommendation letter for graduate school. You can get the letters for graduate school here.[/note]

Additionally you can get sample letters you will need throughout graduate school, for instance when you are submitting your first scientific paper to a journal or when you are applying to a scientific conference.

Check the letters for graduate school here.

About Julio Peironcely

Julio Peironcely, PhD is the founder of Next Scientist and a PhD by Leiden University. He helps PhD students to stay motivated, be more productive and finish their PhDs. Follow him on Twitter (@peyron) or read more from him on


  1. CarinaDSLR says:

    Interesting list! A bit too hipster-y for my taste (e.g. MacBook Air and fixed gear bike) and some items aren’t exactly cheap (138 Dollar for a messenger bag!).
    Also, telescoping poster tubes tend to un-telescope and crush your pretty poster. #learned_that_the_hard_way
    Paper tubes are cheaper and pretty much indestructable.

    Understanding partner is always awesome but I woundn’t count him/her as “gear” and that meme picture is a bit strange in contrast to the sound advise given.

    🙂 Hope to see more from you in the future!

  2. James Hayton says:

    I have used moleskines before… very nice, but a bit TOO nice for my liking. I like my notebooks cheap and destructable so I can fill them up without thinking about how much it’s costing me!

    I would go for full size “can” style hearphones rather than in-ear… they sound better, AND make it obvious you are working so people are less likely to disturb you.

    • NextScientist says:

      IKEA is selling some really cheap notebooks with black covers and similar size to a Moleskine.

      Yeah, thick fullsized headphones are sending a clear message. Though among computer guys in-ear headphones are enough to show you are “in the zone”.

    • Plus those in-ear headphones destroy your hearing so unless you’d like to go deaf before your time, full size headphones are the only way to go.

  3. This list is a ‘joke’! Show me PhD student who can afford bike for $1000 or bag for >$100, majority are happy to find bike for $20 at the garage sale…

  4. Interesting! learnt a good number of things after stumbling on your post, it was a good start for me. Just couldn’t believe why on earth those notebooks are very expensive.


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