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.

Lessons Learned: Reflections on Graduate School 10 Years Later

Just before I began the first semester of my graduate program, I nervously drafted an email to my advisor. To my surprise, I had been accepted into a program that would help me fulfill my goal of a rewarding career in health education. But part of me thought maybe the selection committee had made a huge mistake. Sure, I had enough experience, foresight, and passion to know I wanted to be in the program. I had the test scores and recommendations to get into the program. But for some reason, there was a small part of me that thought maybe they accidentally accepted me into the program and would rescind the offer any day. I was dealing with a major case of imposter syndrome before I ever knew it had a name. So, I emailed my advisor partly to be sure that my acceptance letter was not going to be rescinded and partly to get to know the person who would guide me through the process in a way that led to my successful completion of the program, assuming they had accepted me on purpose.


sydney-rae-408416-unsplash (1)

During that first meeting with my advisor, he lauded the strength of my application package, specifically my references and my potential as demonstrated in my thoughtfully chosen work experiences. He mentioned the high ratings across the board but particularly in the area of ’emotional intelligence’, which at the time I thought was an odd thing to rate an applicant on.  He said that in a graduate program, you move from consuming knowledge to applying and contributing to the body of knowledge. He also mentioned that I had applied for entry into a selective program at a rigorous research university where the selection committee wouldn’t have accepted anyone who they weren’t absolutely sure could finish. I exhaled. It wasn’t a mistake after all. I left that meeting feeling supported by my advisor, curious about how I would develop in order to be prepared for graduation, and absolutely determined that I would indeed graduate. And I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned in the 10 years since graduation, the importance of those things, support, curiosity, and determination, stick out to me.  Here are a few things I’ve learned:


Be determined to build a life, not just make a living. 

Capitalism will try to convince you that making money is the most important thing. Academia will try to tell you that teaching and publishing are the most important things. Working in a helping profession will have you convinced that changing the world and helping others is the most important things. But what I learned in graduate school is that building a life you love is more important than all those other things. In fact, building a life you love, filled with people who add value to your life will motivate and inspire you to do everything else.


It took me an extra year to complete my Master’s because I needed to work while attending school. At the time, I was very conflicted about that. I wanted to focus on school so I could move on. But at some point, it dawned on me that life as a student is unique and fleeting and I was well advised to focus more on maximizing the opportunity, not rushing through it. I didn’t want to be in school a day longer than necessary. But the extra year allowed me time to improve my employability by gaining invaluable part-time, volunteer, and unpaid work doing exactly what people paid me to do when did graduate. I also had time to focus build some amazing and professional relationships that have been invaluable to my career and some absolutely priceless friendships that have been invaluable in my life.  



Be willing to seek and receive support.

Listen, asking for help, of any kind, is tough. I know. There was a time when my pride wouldn’t let me do it.  But, there is something about being committed to reaching a goal you’re not sure you can reach that will force you to either get some help or fail.  You can do what you want. Whatever you want. But you can’t do it alone. This is true in graduate school and it’s true in life.


I’m not a numbers person. If it’s not about counting money, I leave the numbers to other people. Like many women, I was steered away from math at a young age and since I never liked it anyway, I was fine with that.  But I loved all manner of human and behavioral sciences, which eventually requires some competence of numbers.  I knew I’d have to take some statistics courses in graduate school so I got my mind right and took the first one during my second semester.  I figured I should get the most difficult subject done and over with so I could quickly move on to more interesting things.  This turned out to be the right strategy for me because I dropped out of the course the first time.  It would take a second attempt at the subject (during which dropped out a second time) before I set aside my ego and sought out the support I knew I needed.  On my third attempt, and armed with an in-person tutor and every single book my university’s library had on statistics, I completed the course with a high “B”. Of all the grades I’ve ever earned, this was the one I was most proud of, partially because I had to work so hard at it and get a ton of support to get it done.


Similarly, the work experience I have been most proud of was not the one where I received the most accolades or the most money. It was developing a workplace wellness program from scratch and I was proud of the work because it required me to rally the support of dozens of people across several departments in county government.  It required me to ask people for money, time, and commitment and it required me to be more committed to the goal than I was to my own ego and my own comfort, lessons I learned in graduate school. 


Stay curious.

One of the beautiful things about attending a research university was the ability to engage in inquiry at every level, in every class, about any topic. I found spaces to safely inquire about why African-American women in the south often have disproportionately poor health outcomes and how to assess the value of a healthcare system where such inequalities exist. I had space to ask questions about what can be done to change such a system. I took deep dives into the reasons it so challenging to change human behavior, even in the face overwhelming evidence of that we ‘should’ do. Being able to ask these questions guided me toward doing work that helps answer them.


Professionally, I attribute much of my career success to being curious. Asking ‘how does this work’ or ‘why are things that way’ allows me to dig below the surface to a deeper understanding of the world around me. Asking similar questions of the people I come in contact with not only builds rapport, but it also helps me to continuously develop that emotional intelligence I once thought was non-essential for someone applying for entry into a graduate program.  Now, 10 years later, I understand its value more than ever and I’m grateful for a graduate school experience that allowed me to practice being curious in a way that got me comfortable asking questions and even more comfortable not having all the answers.


I’ve sometimes wondered, especially as I consider applying to a doctoral program, if the years I spent in graduate school were worth it. It didn’t provide me with a one-way ticket up the career ladder.  Though I have progressively moved into more challenge roles, made more money, and had a larger impact over the years, none of it was without many, many challenges. But as I reflect, what I know for sure is that the journey to achieving any big goal is not really about the goal.  It’s about the person you become on the way to achieving it.  And for that reason, it was absolutely worth it.


I could go on and on about what I learned about myself and the world while enrolled in school.  But, I’d much prefer to hear about the lessons you gathered along the way.  Type them in the comments below.

Get Sh*t Done: How to Finish What You Started, Even When You’re Tired

Get sh-t Done!

April is an interesting month, especially as a student.

It’s warmer outside.

The colors are more vivid.

Winter is over!

Who wants to sit in a room to read and write?

There are festivals and concerts to attend. Lunches on patios. Cookouts happening so you can reconnect with friends.

//giphy.com/embed/xUPGcxJifn7dEpmqcgvia GIPHY

The end of the term is so close that you can taste it and still so far away that you’re not sure how you’re going to make it.

I’m sure the thoughts of giving up cross your mind several times a day. Who needs this degree anyway?

One of my biggest challenges in productivity and execution is finishing strong.

I’m more of the ideas person. I’m the one who pulls others along with my excitement and enthusiasm. However, as a project starts to settle into routine tasks and systems, I begin to lose my interest. My motivation will continue to dissipate the longer the project and the closer to the end.

Hence, April is usually a tricky month for me.

So what helps?

The following is what I do to get through the times like this.

Write a list of everything you need to complete by the end of April. Make a list of tasks and projects

What are the projects, assignments, tasks, etc. that you HAVE to complete before the end of April? This is not a list of things you want to do or things that other people would like for you to do. To finish strong, make yourself and your success a priority.

Make sure that there is a corresponding due date for each item that you place on the list.

Make it real and schedule it.

Use a planner, a printout of April, or whatever you have and schedule the tasks on the assigned due dates. This may seem repetitive because of the last step, but it helps the brain to visually see what you have to do.  You will be thankful later when your brain doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with all the tasks and due dates.

Find some sista friends to help support you and keep you accountable.

During this time, the process can feel real lonely and isolating. It is helpful to be around others who understand what you are going through because they are doing the same. Don’t have a group where you are? Join the Sista Scholar Facebook group. The members of this group are waiting and willing to help you finally achieve the peace, productivity, and health you’ve been wanting.

Do one thing at a time.

It could seem like we are great at multitasking and that only imagesapplies to like 1-2% of the population. When we try to write a paper while checking Facebook and texting we are using more time than if we did each of those task one at a time. I use the Pomodoro Technique when I work. It’s where you focus only on one task for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break. I work to complete that tasks for 25 minutes and use the five minutes for texting or Facebook. I use the timer on my phone to keep me accountable. I notice that I get more done when I use this method than when I just to work on my own.

Looking for some accountability and community?

Hustle Hour (1)Join the Sista Scholars for our next Hustle Hour.  You can use this time to complete steps 1 and 2. You can use the time to talk to someone, to get advice, or to have a listening ear. Or you can use it for accountability. At the beginning of the hour, we all say what we will be working on for our time together. When we conclude our time, we give updates on our progress. Throughout the hour, you will receive encouragement and feedback.

Click here to join us!

Processed with VSCO with a10 preset

Marvette Lacy: Business Productivity & Energy Management Columnist

Marvette is here to share strategies, tips, and information to help you maintain your energy so that you can be more productive in business and life.