Starting graduate school can be a huge transition- especially if you’ve been out of school for awhile. When I headed back to the classroom I read lots of tips and advice on navigating the graduate school world as a student back in school after a break, but here are three really useful things I learned during my first year that no one told me about grad school (and are probably equally true for many undergrad settings):

TIP #1. Scan Everything.

Schools vary in how much printed material they distribute, but at my school there’s a moderate amount of handouts and graded papers are nearly always returned in a hardcopy format. To deal with all this paper, plus my own pages of notes, I adopted the practice of scanning everything and uploading it to my gmail account.

Scanning everything- especially graded papers- helps organize, minimize paper, and make it easier to calculate your grade pre-final.

Optical character recognition (OCR) is a boring phrase, but a lifesaver in graduate school. Any piece of paper scanned and uploaded to services that offer OCR (i.e. Evernote or Google Drive) become searchable by keyword, even if they are pdfs you scanned. When it comes to locating quotes or particular readings in a course syllabus, OCR is a life saver.

HOW: Your school’s library should have a copier with a tray to make copies of multi-page documents, and it should have the capability to scan those documents rather than copying. At my school, I can swipe my student ID, place a huge pile of (unstapled) papers in the feeder tray, and moments later the contents of the papers are sent to the email address on my student account. (and my pile of papers can get dumped into the recycling bin without guilt!)

MOST helpful has been scanning my graded papers for easy reference later.

student notes and doodles in classroom
After class I have my handwritten notes and any handouts scanned in the library on my way out of the building.(I don’t, typically, copy my tabletop doodles, though)

TIP #2. Use Your Phone to Capture Quotes

I use my phone to capture quotes in two ways when I am working on a research project.

1. Visual. Early in my project I will use my phone to capture relevant information as a reminder later. For example, if I know I’ll be writing a term paper at the end of the semester on the cultural limitations of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and the assigned reading in the 2nd week of class include a paragraph on adapting therapies for indigenous populations, I might quickly stop, take a photo of that page, and upload it to a folder called “CBT Research” on my cloud account. When I’m ready to start my paper months later, I’ve already done legwork for myself.

2. Voice Recognition. I use my phone’s voice recognition to help transcribe exact quotes from a book or article. For example, if I need to transcribe a large amount of quotes from a book, rather than typing those quotes verbatim, I’ll open a text file on my phone, turn on the voice-to-text mic, and read the quotes I wish to use aloud.


TIP #3. Print & Bind Your Readings

I’m really grateful to the neurobiology professor who, my first week of Graduate School, strongly encouraged students to print out all of our readings. She explained how the brain integrates and remembers information more accurately when it interacts with the data on a page rather than on a screen- and how physical interaction- like underlining or margin notes- can help memory and provide helpful reference points when reviewing the readings later as potential sources for papers.

Professional Binding saved me lots of time and headache my first year. I saved all the readings (available for download from my student account) as PDF’s on a USB drive, then took the drive to a copy shop. For about $25, I was able to have them print out all of my assigned readings and bind them together in a spiral bound notebook. $25 well spent. Bound readings with tabs

Studying neurobiology taught me just how important it is to have a print copy of readings that can be interacted with in a tactile way.

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