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Holigay Gift Guide: What To Buy for Your Grad School Friend Who’s Too Busy To Read This

A swirly background in blues, oranges, and golds. The words HOLIDAYS 2022 are on torn gold paper, along with the Autostraddle logo.

Holigays 2022 // Header by Viv Le

Ah, the holidays. A time for failed gingerbread assembling attempts and corny Hallmark Christmas films. Also, NO SCHOOL!!! For a few weeks, undergrad and grad students alike are able to completely forget about papers, exams, and pretentious professors. This break is especially important given the fact that it literally happens during after finals season, where campus libraries are flooded, and student portals crash because everyone is checking their grades.

In grad school, the stakes are higher. The coursework is more intense, and competition is increased. Undergrad is for finding your passion and exploring what you’re capable of; grad school is for becoming an expert in your field of choice. Most of us are older than 18-22 years old. While many undergrad students also have jobs, grad students balancing work and school are even more common. In a way, grad school is a job. A good number of grad students are parents and have families to care for (for anyone reading who’s a parent AND a grad student, I salute you).

If you have a loved one attending grad school, a gift to them this holiday season might just give them the motivation to keep going, or at least feel at ease and appreciated. They might be too busy for you to ask them what they want for the holidays — or too busy to even think about what they want. Maybe you are a grad student yourself who miraculously found the time to brainstorm ideas on what you’d like. Either way, this list has you covered! Also, if I know you in real life and you’re reading this, take notes.

Being On the Go

Sometimes the hardest part of my day is getting to my destination and having to take the bus and train. Many grad students are well aware of the stress that comes with having to commute on public transportation. For those who drive wherever they go, traffic and campus parking can be literal nightmares. I had a friend in undergrad who explained that she was late to class a lot of the time because there were rarely vacant parking spots near her academic building. Now, unless you can take charge of parking infrastructure on your grad school pal’s campus or magically change every issue with public transportation (if anyone reading this is capable of fixing New York City’s, I would be eternally grateful to you), below are some things that can make the trip more bearable.

This water bottle is gallon-sized and has time stamps to remind you to stay hydrated! Each time stamp comes with a short motivational phrase to keep drinking. While this one is Mint Rose Gold, there are other neat colors to choose from. The bento box comes with two containers. The top container has two compartments that are each capable of holding 3/4 cups of food. The bottom container holds two cups. It’s perfect for those days when you’re out and about for a long period of time. And it comes with utensils!! Who doesn’t love extra utensils!!! The headphones can be used for listening to music or your favorite podcast while you’re on the road. They last for 30 hours after being fully charged, are wireless, and work with iPhones, Androids, and other cellular devices! The earpads are soft, and you can adjust it to fit your head shape. The backpack is probably one of my personal favorites on this list. Listen, I know tote bags have been crowned as the ultimate bag for queer people. But when you need to pack notebooks, pens, folders, your laptop, and lunch, you’re gonna need something more spacious and durable. It’s functional, comfy, and even has a sleeve just for laptops.

Study Tools

You wanna know why your grad school friend is too busy to read this? They’re probably studying for a big test or typing away on their laptop’s keyboard for an assignment. Make their life easier by getting them these study tools.

Book lights are one of the coolest inventions in the world, and this Quad Light model stands out. They’re perfect for when you have a bunch of readings to do but you don’t want to sit at a desk or turn on any lights. You can securely attach them to any book, adjust the light settings and neck to your liking, and power them with Triple A batteries. This keyboard mat provides a soft cushion for your wrist and prevents cramping or joint pain for when you’re working on a laptop or computer. The cute desk organizer comes with multiple compartments of varying sizes. Their open space allows you to easily grab pens, pencils, notebooks, or whatever you choose to store in them. These two-in-one highlighter/fineliner markers are different from double-sided pens in that the tips of the highlighter and marker are right next to each other! You can simply rotate the pen to use whichever tool you’d like.

Planners, Planners, Planners

I am well aware that we live in a digital age where Google Calendar and other nifty scheduling apps exist. Those are all valid, and maybe a premium subscription to a fancy calendar or planning app would be a good idea for a gift. However, some of us like to keep it classic! There’s something about being able to process and store information better when you physically write it down. Also, looking at your to-do list on aesthetically pleasing papers makes the tasks, at least for me, less daunting. Here are a few good options to consider getting your friend so they can conquer their schedules.

Habit Tracker Calendar is not really a planner, so this may be cheating. Essentially, it helps you keep track of all your habits and forces you to hold yourself accountable, which is good for sticking to your schedule. There is also a to-do list on there that allows you to check off things you’ve done throughout your day and week. The Passion Planner option is probably best for all the spiritual babes out there. It includes vertical time slots, inspirational quotes, challenges to improve your daily life, space for practicing gratitude, and a “space of infinite possibility.” You can also create a “passion roadmap” to define short-term and long-term goals and set a timeline for them. The floral planner consists of 12 dividers with floral patterns, a collection of stickers, and breaks your responsibilities down by morning, afternoon, and evening. And the leather planner is classic, suitable for those who like to keep it simple. Made of leather material and ivory pages with gold gilded page edges, you can also personalize it with your initials.

Stress Relief

Originally, I wanted to include things like stress balls and fidget rings for this category. But life’s not all about school and work! It is a constant struggle to break out of the colonial narrative that our worth is determined by how “productive” we are. Academia especially has conditioned us to believe that we should constantly be working on something. For anyone reading this who needs a reminder: Your existence is enough. You have the right to relaxation and joy. After finals are over and a semester ends, I think it’s hard for students to allow themselves to relax and enjoy themselves. This category contains a number of items that can help students switch-off from work mode and give themselves permission to slow down.

This mini vibrator is a rechargeable, waterproof powerhouse. It includes seven vibration patterns, ten intensity levels, and, as the name suggests, GLOWS IN THE DARK!! It’ll bring a little fun to sexy time, whether it’s solo, with a partner, or with multiple partners! Filled with inclusive and diverse pictures, this coloring book reminds us that our bodies are valuable and sacred. Illustrated by Kateryna Salii, you can sit back and color to your heart’s content. The bath powder has a gentle mixture of coconut milk powder infused with rich vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and potassium. Bathing in the product will leave your skin soft and hydrated! And the mask with the bath powder is a recipe for a relaxing spa day! This mask has ingredients such as argan oil and shea butter that’ll cleanse and purify your skin.

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Lily Alvarado

Lily Alvarado is a queer Boricua whose heart was born and sings in The Bronx, New York. Her titles include grad student, educator, decolonial feminist, breaker of generational cycles, and lover of reptiles.

Lily has written 22 articles for us.


  1. As a grad student and parent who is painfully struggling to make it through this semester, I am definitely wishing for that milk bath and detox mask (and for the semester to be over).

  2. Awesome list! If I may offer another suggestion: friction erasable highlighters, they are great!

    I’m not a fan of that bottle, because once you get to the end your water will be a bit stale? And you’d have to carry around all that weight?

    And, something I actually learned in grad school, this whole concept that everybody must drink 8 glasses or 2 liters of water every single day is a complete myth, one of the most pervasive ones too. Drink when you are thirsty, and you’re good.*

    (*there are exceptions: young children, elderly, people with certain conditions like diabetes, medications, and some others – when the thirst-hydration regulation can be off. But if you are healthy and not very young or over about 65 don’t worry about it.)

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