Organizing my Grad School Life (Year 2)!

Hi everyone!

Hopefully when you’re reading this I’ll be somewhere in Washington DC on vacation, so even though I got some amazing blog posts ideas this week on Tumblr, I thought I’d start off September with something a bit more chill and talk about how I plan to organize my life this year.

This is essentially a compilation of all the organizational techniques I either developed last year or am trying out this year. It’s just simple tricks I use to make my planning and organization of the billions of sheets of papers I go through just a little bit less overwhelming.

This blog post is separated into different sections. Feel free to skip to each section using the links below! Also, disclaimer that this is just what works for me, so take everything with a grain of salt.

Organizing my…

Schedule | Notes | Papers | Assignments


So last year, I used a modified bullet journal technique. I had an A5 Leuchtturm 1917 hardcover notebook and essentially designed my own planner (which you can see here). However, because I had set it up as a daily to-do list type thing, it became quite cumbersome because a lot of what I do in grad school doesn’t have a deadline. So I found myself going days ignoring my bullet journal because I only had one task for the week and that was it. So, this year I hope to simplify it a bit more and adjust for my obnoxiously open schedule. To help, I bought the cutest planner from a nearby Japanese store named Daiso.

It’s divided into four sections with pictures seen below:

  • The first page lists every day of the month (and the corresponding day of the week). Here I list major events happening this month (vacation, holiday, application deadline, etc.). On the same page I also have a “Next Month” and “Upcoming” section where I can do some future planning by listing future events I should keep in mind.
  • The second page is my monthly to do list. I kind of see it as a “Goals” page. I make sure that I list the things I need/want to get done this month. I also include a post-it with a future to-do list which are things I want to get done but they don’t necessarily have to get done this month. Just…sometime in the near future.
  • The third section is a “Dates & Deadlines” page. When classes start and I get much more busy, this will include any deadlines for assignments, exams or applications, as well as meetings or events I need to attend.
  • Lastly, I have my weekly checklist. Since it’s very hard for me to break down my tasks by day, usually at the beginning of the week I’ll write a big checklist of things I want/need to get done this week and if it’s a big task like “finish this application” I’ll break it down into smaller tasks on the same list. I also have a small post-it on the corner for any notes or future tasks I should keep in mind when planning ahead.

Along with a physical checklist planner, I also use Google Calendar. I have a tendency to forget about events, particularly if I’m absorbed in work. (I even forget to eat sometime!) So it’s really helpful to me to have something that can notify me when I need to go to class or when I have a meeting coming up that I would have probably forgotten about otherwise. On Google Calendar, I also include reminders to eat lunch or take breaks, because otherwise I’ll be at my desk for hours and being grumpy and hungry when I finally do decide to emerge from my office. I sometimes even go a step further and use Pushbullet to push my calendar notifications to my computer. This way, it’s harder for me to ignore them (as is my tendency).


However, I also have this annoying need to always write everything down (it helps me remember things), I am also planning to have a backup desk calendar. I haven’t ordered it yet since I don’t want it to arrive at my apartment when I’m not there, but I’m planning on getting this calendar as soon as I get back from vacation.

I’m hoping that it’s small enough for me to shove to the corner of my desk and ignore until I need it. I am planning to compare my this with my Google Calendar every week or so.


Notes for Meetings

Since I only have one class this quarter, I just have one notebook dedicated to that. Easy enough, right? However, I also have meetings for research, seminars and for other things I’m involved in this year. And since I love writing things down, all of these require that I take notes. For that, I just bought a small spiral bound notebook for me to quickly grab and take to whatever meeting I have that day. I think of it like a brain dump journal for school. It’s not the most organized thing in the world, but it’s a nice reference that I can look back on when needed.

If, by chance, I forget my notebook for some reason or don’t have time to run and grab it from my office, I also use Google Keep in order to take notes. It’s much less efficient because I hate taking notes on my phone, but hey…beggars can’t be choosers?

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Keep has the wonderful feature of syncing across devices and sharing with other people (awesome when you live with someone and need to share the grocery list). They also allow you to tag and color code your notes, which I have taken full advantage as you can plainly see.

Notes while Reading Papers

I also try and take notes when reading scientific papers. How I take notes depends on where I am. If I’m reading by my at home or out in the world, I either highlight my papers and scribble in the margins or take notes in a separate spiral bound notebook dedicated specifically to that. However, if I’m near my computer, I try to digitalize my notes and use One Note, as seen below. Unfortunately, i haven’t digitalized a lot of my lit notes yet, but I hope to do more like this eventually because I find it’s just easier to look through this way.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 11.52.55 AM

In order to draw the chemical structures, I use my Wacom drawing tablet, but if you’re doing this on a tablet, any stylus would work as well.

Notes for Lab/Research

I also obviously need to take notes while running experiments or while out in the field. For that, my lab provides a notebook and I make sure that every experiment is a new page. There is very limited organization in my lab notebook, because I find if I organize it, I get distracted by trying to follow my organization set up that I may not write everything I need down. That’s why after the day/field campaign is over, I then transfer my notes into One Note where I organize it into a project header and then make pages corresponding to specific tasks or dates of the experiment.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 12.34.03 PM


Electronic Organization

Now, about the most difficult things that I’ve found is organizing papers, electronically or otherwise. For electronic organization, I first download papers, name them by their author, date and journal, (i.e. Nguyen (2016) PCCP) and put them in their appropriate folder (organized by topic) in my dropbox.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 11.57.13 AM.png

After it’s found a home in on of my dropbox folders, I then upload it to EndNote. EndNote is a reference manager that is amazing and makes it really easy to find whatever paper you need. (A lot of universities have a free license that you can use as a student. If not, a free option is Mendeley, which I haven’t used but heard it’s top notch). The folders I organize my papers into on EndNote correspond to the ones I sort them into on Dropbox, because redundancy is what I do best!

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Physical Organization

For physical organization I use this accordion file:


I’m still working out the kinks of this process because I have a lot of papers that I’ve printed out that have yet to go into this accordion file. But maybe I’ll upgrade to a filing cabinet next? Who knows. Advice for organizing physical copies of papers? Because as of right now I label each file with some arbitrary topic and then shove a bunch of somewhat related papers in. Again, not the best method, but it works I guess?


For my assignments I also have an electronic method where I organize my classes via Dropbox folders. It’s kind of hard to demonstrate this right now since classes haven’t started yet, but usually I’ll have a folder for each class and then I’ll make sure I have a copy of the syllabus, the assignment schedule and then a folder assignments/exams/etc. The key, in my mind, is the more folders the better. It makes everything neater and easier to find. If an electronic assignment get returned to me, I also have a “Returned Assignments” folder.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 12.35.50 PM.png

When physical assignments get returned to me (as I usually have to print them out), I have an accordion file just like I do for printed out copies of literature papers. I have two folders dedicated for each class: Class Notes and Returned Work/Exams.

Welp, that’s all I can think of. This was a lot more extensive than I thought it would be! Woops! Feel free to share your organizational techniques! I find learning how people organize their life is so interesting to me! Plus, I could really use some more ideas to keep upping my organizational game. :p

Hope you enjoyed! ❤


4 thoughts on “Organizing my Grad School Life (Year 2)!”

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