8 Useful Graduation Gifts for the (Almost) Ph.D. in Your Life

celebrate- hoorayIt’s spring semester ya’ll, and for me, that means graduation season is almost upon us. If you’re like me, “Omg,” “fml,” “I’m so behind,” etc. will be screams heard ’round the world (and certainly from me) as we draw closer and closer to defense dates and final submission deadlines for the graduate school.

As I think back on my life, I honestly cannot believe I’ve made it this far. I’m a Black woman who spent all of my Black girlhood with working-class parents, at public schools where 100% of students received free and reduced lunch lunches, and in neighborhoods where gang violence and murder were the norms. And yet, somehow (we know how but for the sake of dramatics rock with me), here I am, several years and a slightly safer neighborhood later, writing my dissertation.

I’m currently analyzing, recoding, and collapsing codes so I also want to stab my eyeballs out. But every few minutes, I pause and begin to think about graduation because the idea that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel alone is what is sustaining me. Tonight, one of my former grads and friend, Nacho, agreed to look over some of my writing. Nacho, like so many other people, has been instrumental in my continuing forward on this dissertation. And as Nacho agreed to help, I started to think about ways that others could use their talent and gifts as a graduation gift– things that would be useful and helpful for the Ph.D. candidate in your life like they’d be useful in mine. This led me to compile a list of eight things I’d love–with the number eight as my go to because eight years is the average time to degree completion for a Ph.D. student.

SO, here goes– 8 useful gifts for the Ph.D. (or Ed.D. or M.A. etc.) in your life:

  1. Professional editing: If you are great at writing (hey Nacho), consider gifting your time and talent. If not, pay for X amount of hours or pages for editing for a friend who is pressing toward graduation. Gift it early, prior to final deadlines,  so that students can use it before graduation. Trust me, it would help a lot.
  2. Gift Cards: Every Ph.D. student finishing up is going to want to sit and do NOTHING for a few weeks after they’re done. You can help them with this by sending them grocery store, restaurant, airline, etc. gift cards that they can redeem to help them relax a little more.
  3. Spa Certificates: Grad school is sckressful. The amount of tension we carry in our bodies from the stress of the process is always noticeable. A trip to the spa to help recalibrate could make a world of difference.
  4. Dissertation Binding/ Booking: When I finish, I’ll be taking a well earned break from looking at my dissertation. However, it’d be cool to be able to hold a well-bound physical copy of this thing called hell dissertation I survived. Gifting services for binding a copy (or two) could be extra special for the grad in your life. Note: Some institutions have printing services available. Check with the institution your friend attends for more information.
  5. giphy- you look mighty fine and dapperRegalia: Okay, so I pulled out the big gun here. UGA’s regalia is so darn expensive that I’m going to have to take on a fourth job to purchase it. Grab some friends and go in together to gift the grad in your life the NICE, top of the line, regalia (which, at my school, is almost $1,000, but still not as much as the most expensive regalia available). This would def take a load off and make graduation prep less stressful. Also– everytime they wear it, they’ll think of you. (If everyone from #CiteASista gave me 1.00 I could afford mine, just saying.)
  6. Diploma Frame: Despite how much schools get you on the way in with fees (GRE/ Applications/ etc.) and throughout your time enrolled with all sorts of miscellaneous fees (special $400/semester institution fee at UGA, I see you!), it doesn’t let up on the way out. Not only is the regalia ridiculous, but so are the diploma frames. Degree frames allow your gift to be on display, surrounding the paper that represents an achievement (…and the blood, sweat, tears, and sleep deprived days and nights) that your friend worked super hard for.
  7. giphy- martin workout sceneGym/ Fitness/ Personal Trainer Memberships: Okay folks– this is NOT the time to tell someone “you’re getting fat.” *Staring at you Black family members.* However, the average graduate student gains much more than the Freshman 15  we’ve all come to associate with college. In my case? I’m staring at a 45-pound weight gain since I started my degree. The good news? The weight can come off. The bad news? It’s probably going to cost me more financially than the degree itself (eugh!). So, a gym or fitness membership, to a grad you know well enough not to offend, would make an amazing gift. Or maybe I’m speaking for myself– buy ME some personal training. Added bonus? Meal prep to get them through the end of the semester. #GiftGoals.
  8. Graduation Outfit Shopping: Okay, so some of these are way too practical. Perhaps you’re the fun friend/ aunt/ uncle/ etc. Then the number eight is for you. Take your grad shopping. For most of us, defense and graduation are big days. For me–my Ph.D. graduation day matters more than any potential wedding day I might have. This is it– the moment I’ve worked so tremendously hard for. So like most Black folks, an exorbitant amount of thought will go into getting this outfit ready. If you want to get the fun gift, go with your grad shopping and purchase part of the graduation outfit. Perhaps you could even volunteer (with a limit) to purchase an outfit for their graduation pictures. Either way, Black folks love to get dressed up and there’s no better moment to help your grad strut their stuff than this.Edi

cas- gif- we did it- graduation

*Bonus*: Sanity. If you can find a way to gift it back, we’ll take it. H/T Chelsea Doub for the suggestion.

So that’s that. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments with your suggestions.


Editors note: Edited to add a bonus message.

4 Questions To Answers If You Want To Start A Side Hustle

Deciding to become a full-time student has major benefits in that I can (in theory) spend more time on coursework, research, and other opportunities. However, the full-time student pay can be a little sad. Financial aid, for the most part, only comes in loans. Fellowships and the few scholarships available for graduate students are scarce and highly competitive. This can be frustrating and leave you searching for answers.
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I’m sure you have also seen a lot on social media about people having side hustles to make some extra money to supplement their current income. Millions of posts and videos about how people are making 6 figures in one day and how you can work from anywhere and make tons of money. Sure, there are some people who have found a get rich quick scheme and for everyone else, that’s just not reality.

If you are thinking about starting a side hustle, then you have to be realistic in what you hope to accomplish. Having a side hustle can definitely help supplement your current income; it will also require a lot of time and effort on your part. It will not be easy and it is not for the faint of heart.


My first two years being the doctoral program, I was making less that $1,000 a month. Paying rent, utilities, food, and other basic needs could not be fully covered with that income. So I started looking for other ways to make some money.
I found  A LOT of information; some useful but most of it trash. Many of the “business gurus” make most of their money from people like us searching for information about how to start a business. They give a few ideas, make them sound pretty, prey on your ignorance, and then leave you hanging more confused that when you started.
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I even searched out other Black women who started their businesses thinking that they were more trustworthy. These women say all the right things, talk to you about how they know what it’s like to know that you are destined for more and that you just need someone to show you the right direction. The Business Guru tells you her story about how she was in a job she hated or how her supervisor did not appreciate her or EVEN how she was a graduate student. She did three simple steps and instantly gain financial independence overnight.
Truth: building a side hustle can be simple. Simple does not mean easy though. It takes time, patience, tears, and persistence.

However, if you’re still wanting to know more about how you can do it, then please keep reading.


4 Questions

What problem do you solve-
What problem do you solve?
Business is all about identifying a problem and providing a solution(s) for that problem. What are you trying to solve for people? Do you help people fix their credit by helping them to manage money better? Do you know how to help people manage or eliminate their anxiety and depression through meditation? Once you figure out the problem you solve, decide how you can best solve that problem.
What problem do you solve- (1)
How can you solve their problem?
What is your gift? What will people pay you for? You could offer a service like a career consulting or transcription services. Maybe you make handmade items like blankets or t-shirts. Whatever you do, make sure that it can bring value by solving a problem. The problem does not need to be earth shattering. It just needs to help make someone else’s life easier.
What problem do you solve- (2)
Who do you want to help?
How would you describe the person who needs your help the most? Going back to the problem, how does your customer experience this problem? Is she having a hard time paying her rent every month because she likes to eat out instead of cooking at home? Do they need to find a new job but their resume needs updating? If you know WHO needs your services, then you know your customers. This doesn’t limit who can buy what you’re selling, it helps you to market to the right people who NEED what you’re offering.
What problem do you solve- (3)
Why should they choose you?

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe” Simon Sinek. In short, people are more likely to come to you and buy from you if they feel a connection to you. A simple way to connect with you is to know WHY you are in this business. This goes back to the problem you are solving. Why does this problem need be solved by you?


These questions are the foundation of your business. Don’t get caught up in building websites, creating logos, or figuring out a business name. Those things do not matter.  They help later once you actually have a business. If you focus on these things first, you will never get started or make money, which is the point right. Your website is pretty, shiny, and new but if I don’t know what you’re selling, how can I buy?
There is so much more I can tell you about starting a business. My goal with this column is to continue to share my knowledge with you. Building a business is hard enough without people trying to take advantage of you. Yes, I do believe people should be compensated for their work. However, I do not believe people should overcharge for trash effort. If you pay for help, then you should actually get help.
Building a side hustle does not have a magic formula to it. You just have to do the work and keep doing it over and over.
Until next time!