You won’t find EndNote, RStudio, or ApE on this list (although I used those a lot during grad school).
These are all lifestyle-related services that really made a positive impact on my physical and mental health during grad school. There are already plenty of lists out there talking about the best reference managers, productivity timers, and imaging solutions, but you have to put yourself first and make sure your life is in order too! I hope these help you make your life easier in some way.
Some of these are paid, and others are free. Don’t worry, I’m not making any money off of this; I just really liked these services.
In my third year of grad school, I randomly took a local “mindful meditation” course that a friend recommended to me. I’d always thought she was one of the coolest people I’d ever met and I totally trusted her instincts, so I signed up.
After the short course, I walked away having learned one major lesson: I learned was that meditation wasn’t for me. It just never clicked for me, for a variety of reasons. However, being mindful was something I was terrible at before taking the course, and the course really helped me see how useful being mindful, aware, and present in any situation can be.
So, I had already somewhat established for myself that I wasn’t the best meditator. However, during the pandemic, I had the opportunity to snag a free Headspace membership. Being a typical grad student, not to pass up anything that’s free, I hesitantly signed up and downloaded the app. My thought process was simply: “It’s free, right? Might as well try it.” It turned out to be one of my most-used and favorite apps.
There is so much more on the Headspace app than you could ever imagine. There are obviously a ton of meditations for various situations, but there are also quick and useful breathing exercises, pain management tools, sleep sounds, nighttime wind-downs, bedtime stories, stretches and workouts, and various soundscapes.
My personal favorites to use are “Pooch Palace” (bedtime story), “Goodnight” and “Sleeping” (wind-downs), “Racing Mind” (nighttime SOS), “Mountain Time” and “Doze” (sleep music), and the Pain Management course including “In Pain”.
The Headspace app has an amazing feature that lets you set how long the meditation lesson you’re listening to is – the app automatically updates how the content plays depending on what you select. Usually, your options are anywhere between 3 and 20 minutes. If you find it difficult to meditate for more than a few minutes, then the 3-minute setting is perfect. If you want to zone out for a bit, the longer settings are great.
Headspace is available for only $9.99 per year for undergraduate and graduate students in the United States, and that’s an amazing deal in my opinion for all that they offer. It’s also only $69.99 per year for others who don’t qualify for the student discount, which is still only $5.83 per month. I’m grandfathered into the free membership, but yes, I would get the $9.99 per year student membership without a second thought. Even the $69.99 per year membership sounds absolutely worth it for me.
If you’ve ever wanted to get into meditation, need some tools for mindfulness and centering yourself, want to hear some awesome bedtime stories, or just need someone to tell you in a very soothing voice that it’s going to be okay, getting Headspace is a no-brainer.
2. BetterSleep: Relax and Sleep
I specifically recommend this app for those who don’t want to spend any money, but want really solid meditations, relaxation sounds and sleeping aids. It has amazing features on the free version, which I used for a few years during grad school (before I switched to Headspace).
This app is top notch in terms of quality and is aesthetically superior to Headspace in many ways. You can use this on your phone and on your computer. The meditations I used all the time during grad school to fall asleep when I had some really bad anxiety were “Dropping into the Present Moment” and “Complete Release Body Scan”.
According to their site, it’s $59.99 per year, which is $5 a month to unlock everything. I do think it’s worth it, but I might lean a bit towards Headspace if you wanted to spend money on a meditation app.
I highly recommend this app to newbies and for those who just want a no-fuss, free soundscape app with a few nice meditations included. Maybe it can be a gateway for you to getting into mindfulness and meditation!
I didn’t have a car throughout grad school. When I lived walking distance from a grocery store during the first few years, I just walked there and back. I was so fit back then…
After having moved to other apartments during grad school, I decided that I wanted to start using Instacart. Instacart is $99 per year, which comes out to about $2 a week. You get free grocery delivery for any orders above $35. It was incredible for me as someone who meal prepped pretty religiously throughout grad school. I would place my Instacart order and have it scheduled for Saturday morning, get my order delivered, meal prep by noon, and then be done with any housework that was food-related for the rest of the week.
Tipping was something that added up, but it was worth it for me as someone who didn’t spend money on anything car-related. The total amount I spent on groceries + tip to make all my meals for the week still led to each meal being only $4-6 in ingredient costs, so it was very worth it for me as a grad student (I’m sure we all know how terribly grad students get paid).
Now, I do grocery pickup, which has no yearly fee at my local grocery store. No need to mention that with the pandemic, spending less time in the grocery store feels safer and if I can avoid it, I will. I’ve probably been using Instacart for over 3 years now, and it’s seriously been lifestyle-changing and I highly recommend trying it out.
Oh, and I’ve never had an issue where the shopper simply didn’t get an item on the shopping list. You can coordinate with the shopper real-time to pick out a new item, select an alternative item beforehand, or it can be up to the shopper’s discretion.
Although I use a paid program now (mentioned next), I used Cronometer for years during grad school to track my daily food intake and nutrition. It has an extensive database of foods that already exist in various grocery stores and restaurants, so logging a food item is really quick, easy, and accurate. You can also make your own custom meals on the program that reflect your food intake.
It shows you the amounts of proteins, fats, and carbs that you’ve consumed, and it calculates, in a general fashion, what your calorie expenditures are as well. You can input exercise, too! I really liked it because of how easy it was to use. I could log food on the go on my phone or at my desk on my computer. It does have a paid component, but I didn’t use it.
If you’ve been interested in being more mindful of your food intake and nutrition, I highly recommend using Cronometer and seeing how it feels to log your food intake. It can really open your eyes to a lot of things, like how much you’re eating every day, and can also show you ways you can improve your food choices and overall health!
Food was definitely a coping mechanism for me in grad school. Towards the end of my time as a Ph.D. student, I realized that sometimes I was eating in ways that weren’t healthy – as Noom taught me, “fog eating”. I needed a structured weight loss program to help me be more mindful of my food consumption and to shed a few pounds, and that’s why I tried Noom.
Noom goes beyond just logging your food. It offers mental health and mindfulness lessons every day that explain to you why you eat the way you do. Some things I learned in the first few weeks of Noom were the concept of “temptation bundling”, the fact that no food is “bad”, the types of eating (“fuel”, “fun”, “fog”, “storm”), and that there are social and emotional triggers that can lead you to eat off-target.
You track your food intake every day to meet your caloric limit (based on your weight loss goal), and each food item gets categorized as “green”, “yellow”, or “red”, depending on how calorically dense it is. Your food intake every day has to be a majority “green” foods, some “yellow” foods, and only a small proportion “red” foods. They encourage you to measure your weight every day and record your water intake, too. There is also a personal coach and a group coach that you can message and get a response from within a few hours. It’s really encouraging to see the group you’re in posting updates about their weight loss journey and seeing that it really works for a lot of people.
There are some drawbacks, such as the fact that you don’t see any information about the macros/vitamins in your food, and that recording your meals and weight every day isn’t healthy for some people with eating disorders. I personally felt fine doing it, though.
I started out doing the free 2-week trial, and now I pay $45 per month. The yearly plan is $199, which comes out to $16 a month, and I’m seriously considering switching over to that one. I fully recognize that sounds like a lot of money just to be told things that you can probably find on the Internet on your own (if you knew what to Google), combined with the use of the free food tracking app I mentioned above, Cronometer.
However, for me, paying a bit of money (dare I say, what I used to spend on Uber Eats every month) is the motivation I needed to get my health in order once and for all, and to learn great mindfulness and mental health tips related to food every day. I’m not saying it’ll be something I do for the rest of my life, and I am hoping that these habits are going to stick even after I stop using it. I wouldn’t recommend Noom to everyone, but if you really want to see results, change your eating habits from inside your mind, and need some structure and a financial incentive, it is a seriously good option.
The way I look at food, think about food, and approach food in my life has completely changed because of Noom, and I know that I couldn’t have been able to stick with it for as long as I have if it was all free. Plus, I lost over 4 pounds in the first month of doing Noom, simply by doing what they told me to do, without exercising. So, I know it actually works for me!
Similar to Noom, I found it really helpful for me to use a structured, paid program when it came to working out. I never went to the gym or exercised voluntarily as an adult, so having that paid component really incentivized me to make the most of my financial investment.
Orangetheory is a group workout class focused on your heart rate and you generally do the treadmill, rowing machine, and weights every class. The exact exercises and routines you do are switched up so you’re always trying something new. Your group is no more than 20 or so people and you have a coach leading you through everything you need to do in your section.
I didn’t stay at Orangetheory due to the pandemic, but I thought their services were really useful. The coaches I had were all absolutely top of the line in terms of managing the group and encouraging me. You can use a heart rate monitor (that you buy through them for about $100, rent, or you can opt out of it) to record your heart rate throughout the class, and that data is up on the screen so you can see how you’re doing at any time. The music is so fun and entertaining, the studios are very high-quality, there are showers and all sorts of amenities, you get to use free and spacious lockers, and you get an email with a summary of your workout data after every class.
The average cost of a class is around $28, but this will depend on the city you live in and what plan you have. I only went once a week, but I was the most fit I’d been in my entire life during the time I used Orangetheory, and was able to maintain my weight at around 115 lbs!
I know with COVID, gyms may not be so appealing, so this recommendation is last in my list. I did want to mention it in case it inspires you to work out or try a similar service in case you need structure like me!
This list has free and paid services that I used throughout grad school that really helped me out, mentally and physically. They helped me be mindful of my food intake, sleep well, and stay in shape.
I understand that a lot of these services are paid services, and to some readers, may seem like direct players that benefit financially from toxic diet culture. If that’s how you feel, I totally respect that. I personally found that making a financial investment into my health that was within my budget (after more important financial allocations like contributing to my retirement account and paying taxes) really helped me grow as a person and achieve my health goals throughout grad school.
Do you have any go-to wellness apps or services that you recommend? How did it change you? Depending on what your goals are and how you function, there might be a great one out there for you. Would love to know your recommendations!