The Best Books to Help You Get Through Grad School in 2023

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I’m sure when many professionals look back on their grad school experience, there are a few things they’d tell their past selves.

“Slow down.”

“Pace yourself.”

“Take care of yourself.”

Face it, grad school requires a ton of time and effort. And many grade students are working full-time while they’re in school, adding to the pressure and lack of time to complete school work.

Yes, there’s lots to do in grad school, but taking time for yourself is still important. Doing well in grad school is important, too, but if you don’t take care of yourself, your accomplishments in school are for naught.

So, let’s get back to your reading habit.

Reading books can help you develop new habits, stay motivated, and increase your energy levels. And reading keeps your brain engaged more than binging 17 seasons of your favorite shows on Netflix (although, sometimes, you need a binge).

Reading for Leisure

I have lots of reading to do in my studies. Let’s face it: most reading for grad school is NOT fun. It may be interesting and, hopefully, informs your work, but it’s not stirring anything deep in your soul.

Should you read for pleasure when you’re in grad school? OF COURSE!

Even if you get in just a few hours a week of reading your favorite genre, you will benefit. Don’t overlook the benefits of jumping into another world for a few hours and forget about the pressures of grad school.

Let’s take a look at some books to help you in your grad school journey. These books cover the writing process, productivity, self-care, and some fun reads.

Books to Improve Your Writing Skills

How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul Silvia

If you’re having trouble making headway with your writing, you might want to check out “How to Write a Lot” by Paul Silvia. It’s not going to turn you into Shakespeare or anything, but it can help you build good writing habits and make it easier to separate your writing time from your personal time. The book breaks the writing process down into bite-sized chunks, making it easier to tackle and giving you plenty of opportunities to celebrate your progress. Definitely worth a shot – you might be surprised at how much you can get done.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

This book is a total classic, and it’s all about how to write and how to get over writer’s block and all those pesky mental roadblocks that get in the way of writing. It’s not specifically about grad school or academia, but it’s on this list because it’s basically the bee’s knees when it comes to writing advice.

The title comes from a story the author wrote when she was a kid about writing a paper about birds. Like “How to Write a Lot,” this is all about taking it slow and steady, tackling one small task at a time.

Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg

A unique book that can help snap you out of typical academic writing mode “…thus the present findings elucidate a novel method for exploring the behavior and interactions of…”

Almost poetic. Almost rhythmic. Straight to the point. The author explains in free form the fallacies and illusions of forming sentences and getting them onto the page. This will force you to re-think your mental process resulting in better sentences and better papers.

The end of the book covers examples of common sentences and calls out the superfluous wording, re-writing it with only the essentials.

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to
Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis by Joan Bolker

If you’re lacking motivation, struggling to get started every day, or
are completely overwhelmed by the massive task at hand, give this book a look. It doesn’t offer any real advice on the details of a dissertation
but instead aims to instill confidence in the reader. The author guides
you through setting daily page goals, storing ideas, and getting
something–anything–down on the page each day. Essentially a personal
confidence coach for writing, applicable to more than just a
dissertation.

The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success by Lawrence Machi

Starting your literature review is the hardest part. It feels like a
daunting task without a clear path to success. This book helps break
down each step in the process into achievable goals supplemented by
strategies for efficiently and effectively approaching each one. The few
hours spent reading this book will be paid back to you in saving time
researching and writing later.  It will help save your sanity and reduce
anxiety approaching your first literature review.

Books to Increase Your Productivity and Focus

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

This book has been instrumental in maintaining my sanity. Hal Elrod’s book shares his technique of six popular morning routine practices: exercise, reading, journaling, visualization, affirmations, and meditation. He started doing all of them every morning after a near-fatal car accident left him physically and mentally impaired. He refined the timing and intentions around each practice and shared it with friends, which exploded by word-of-mouth. Eventually, he wrote a book to share the technique with the world.

This book is highly recommended for anyone with a self-driven and self-structured workday, like a typical grad student. Read it soon to see how it can greatly impact your life.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

In my mind, this book is the bible of productivity.

“The Getting Things Done (GTD) program is designed to help you do the things you have to do with less time, energy, and effort so you can do more of the things you want to do.

The crux of the GTD system is to store every task, reminder, and note bouncing around your brain in an external organization system to free up your mental energy to actually focus on the task at hand. Your brain is great at creating and processing things but not at remembering them, so trying to keep track of everything in your head saps your brainpower from doing what your mind does best.

For more great books for grad students, check my ever-growing list right here.


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How to Read and Take Notes Like a PhD Student

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As a graduate student or scholar, it is essential to master the skill of reading and taking notes effectively. However, this skill is not something that can be learned overnight, and it requires time and practice. Reading is not just about glancing over the words but processing their meaning, understanding the structure of arguments, and developing a strategy for retention and understanding. In this blog post, we will discuss how to read and take notes like a Ph.D. student.

Read for Class

When starting a new term, it is essential to read through the syllabi and determine which readings are most pertinent to your long-term goals in research. Professors do not expect students to read everything, so it is essential to read with a strategy in mind rather than wasting time on subjects that may not be useful in the future.

At the beginning of each week, go through the index of your books and readings to determine which chapters or sections you should pay attention to the most. For example, if you are a student interested in history, you may want to focus on chapters related to slavery and the law. Set up your class notes using an organization app like Notion to categorize your notes into major themes, scholarship, and questions.

Read for Retention

Reading for retention is all about long-term memory. It is essential to read thoroughly and take your time. When taking notes, consider which chapters or sections pique your interest and take notes based on the categories we discussed earlier. For long-term retention and research, take your time with the introduction, take notes in the margin, and check the footnotes and citations.

When taking notes for retention, consider the following categories: main argument, supporting arguments, subjects and sites, sources, methods, scholarly debate, terms and themes, and questions and notes. Note-taking software like Notion is useful for students to organize their notes.

Read for Research

Reading for research is all about finding information that is most pertinent to your project in a timely manner. Focus on the key takeaways of your project and use specific tactics when going into the text to find the information you need. Do not overlook the index of a book or the find feature on a PDF, as it can help you find information quickly and efficiently.

When reading for research, establish a set of key terms, look them up in the index, and see which pages and sections directly reference your subject matter. Reading for research requires a strategic approach to finding the information you need.

Reading and taking notes like a Ph.D. student requires a purposeful and strategic approach. Reading with a strategy in mind and taking notes based on the categories we’ve outlined can help you retain information in the long term. Use note-taking software like Notion to organize your notes and establish a long list of applicable terms to find what you need efficiently. By following these tips, you can read and take notes like a Ph.D. student, regardless of your reading speed or research stage.



Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.