My Not-so-Glamorous Study Essentials

Since studytube, studygram, studytok, and other communities have popped up on the internet, many students have turned to these communities to feel inspired to study, share advice for studying effectively, and share their study environments.

An unfortunate side effect is that many students might feel like their study space isn’t aesthetically pleasing enough or that because their process or space doesn’t look like what they see online that they won’t be able to study as effectively.

Knowing this, I want to take a moment to share some aspects of my study space and process that isn’t pretty, conventional, or just doesn’t replicate what you see online in hope of normalizing that everyone’s study needs and situations are different.

Before sharing, I do want to acknowledge my privilege in having a private place to study within my living space, that I’m able to afford the initial cost and upkeep of the tools I use, and the inherent privilege of being able to continue with my education as a undergraduate student.

Everyone’s living and financial situation, as well as the intersectionality that is relevant to these matters, is unique. I feel that by sharing my reality I can help bridge the gap between what is seen online and the reality of many students.

My not-so-glamorous study essentials in no particular order:

Glass of water and a filter pitcher in the fridge

I drink a lot of water and find if I have a glass right beside me where I’m working, as well as water chilling in the fridge so that I waste less time refilling the glass or wandering off to get water (inevitably leading to me getting side tracked more than necessary).

The filter part of the pitcher is handy since I find that Victoria water can sometimes have a bit of a chlorine smell and this helps a lot.

Ridiculously oversized sweatpants from the campus bookstore

Back in my first year I happened to find a pair of sweatpants on clearance at the bookstore for under $20. They were a few sizes too big in the waist but the perfect length (I have really long legs that make finding pants tricky).

The first time I washed them they shrunk a bit width wise but not in length so they’re the perfect pants to wear when sitting hours on end since they’re looser than most of my other pants and super warm since I always get cold while studying. After many trips through residence washing machines they look a bit rough but are completely functional.

Snowboarding/work boot/winter socks

Like I said above, I get cold while studying, so wearing thick socks is essential for concentrating on what I’m studying and not how cold I’m feeling.

Back in middle school, my friends and I who attended dance class together were really into wearing socks meant for snowboarders or any cold outdoor activity to keep our feet warm while warming up for rehearsals or between classes.

I have a small collection that’s built up over the years that’s a combination of the snow sport socks, socks meant for folks who hike or wear steel-toe work boots, or any sock meant to keep your feet super warm. Since I don’t wear them inside shoes they are hole free but have met a similar fate to the sweatpants where they may not be pretty but they get the job done so I refuse to buy new ones until an old pair wears out.

Second monitor and multiple computer peripherals

Over the course of multiple online terms I’ve found the addition of a second monitor, an external keyboard and mouse, as well as a mouse pad and wrist support to be really important.

All of these were chosen for comfort and the price with no consideration for style. The monitor I bought was the cheapest model available with a decent screen size. I had originally planned on buying a used and refurbished monitor to cut down on tech waste but none were available at the time.

The keyboard and mouse were a combo deal and are on the older side but are comfortable to use and fit the budget, so while they may not look pretty on my desk they are just what I need.

What really makes this set up look different then the desk set ups online is my mouse pad which is beginning to fray on one end and a really bulky wrist pad that sits by my keyboard. It’s great for helping my posture and making typing out reports for hours more comfortable but it is also the biggest dust magnet.

A blanket

My room in Haig-Brown Hall featuring my desk with my second monitor, handmade blanket, and fraying mousepad

After hearing my reasoning for sweatpants and heavy socks this will either come as no surprise or a bit of a shock but somehow I’ll still be cold.

Even if I’m not, I find typing reports and papers much more enjoyable if I have a blanket over my shoulders.

The one I use is in the photo and was not just there for decoration. I actually crocheted this blanket myself early in my third year for the sole purpose of having a blanket designated for studying and an excuse to pick up my crochet hooks.

I planned out my stitches and my gauge for the blanket so it would be the perfect size to wrap myself in while studying. I think it’s a really pretty blanket between the design by the pattern maker and the yarn which is dyed to form stripes in a specific colour palette but it’s definitely not a commonly featured study essential.

Binders, physical print outs, notebooks

Confession: I am not a paperless student, despite my love for the environment.

My brain works best with words on paper and the opportunity to have the tactile feedback and noises that paper makes, so my paper study supplies are here to stay for now.

I prefer to have a copy of any of the tables, formulae, or reference materials on my desk to minimize the number of computer tabs I have open since I’m most efficient when I can see everything in front of me.

I use notebooks in class, then notebooks to build study guides that double as flashcards, and binders to hold loose-leaf textbooks. I’ve also gotten into the habit of printing out all of the tables and reference material or fill-in-the-blank notes for a class if it isn’t in a textbook or other print source already and getting it bound at Zap Copy in the SUB so it’s all in one place and easy to flip through.

Because of this when my desk is in use (ie. most of the time) it’s completely covered with paper, which isn’t something that’s often shared in desk set-up inspiration pictures online.

A mosaic of sticky notes

Sticky notes are one of my favourite things to use no matter the situation. On any of my desks at any given time you can likely find my-go to golden yellow, hot pink, and bright blue 3″x3″ sticky notes stuck to either the desktop, the flat part of my laptop by the keyboard, or on a wall nearby. They’re usually a mix of study plans, contact info, to-do lists, or reminders.

student desk with calendar and sticky notes on wall

A relatively subdued sticky note situation in my room in David Thompson Hall.

My chemistry study aids

If you’ve taken organic chemistry you’re familiar with molecular model kits. Since I’m in the midst of taking all of the chem requirements for my program, my built models live on my desk or on a shelf close by since they’re in constant use.

They can look a bit cluttery and are not the most aesthetically pleasing thing but they’re essential for my studies. My most used study aids are the cyclo-hexane and pentane conformations but I also keep a methane, ethane, and ethene handy.

I’ve also kept my molecular geometry models from first year that are made from cardboard since they’re handy as well. I also have a Chem Buddy stencil (made by a UVic student!) for organic chemical structure drawings since my stick aromatic rings are often super messy compared to my chair conformation drawings.

chem molecular models

OChem molecular models and a Chem buddy stencil – photo by author

A chaotic annotating system

Before I make a study guide I always go back through my notes from class making notes over what to put where, corrections, sticky notes to flag information that I’ll want to draw diagrams or tables for.

It takes my rough looking class notes from a state of boring point-form handwritten notes into a frenzy of arrows, asterisks, lines, sticky notes, and notes to myself. Of course this looks nothing like the colourful and neat notes seen online but this step is an important part of building my study guides and helps me connect parts of the material.

It’s important to recognize that what we see online is not a reflection of real world practices and that study strategies and personal situations are different for everyone and should be acknowledged.

What are your unconventional or not-so-glamorous study tools?

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