What gadgets/other things you've bought have been really useful with your PhD?


Hi everyone, I've just started my PhD and my mum wants to help me out and treat me a little bit after passing my Masters. I want to get some things that will be useful to me, and I already have loads of stationary and a filing system and can't really think of anything at the moment!

So this probably sounds like a really random question but what things may I not have thought of immediately, that could be really useful to me? I already use Mendelay quite happily so don't really need Endnote.

Thanks, Nxx


Hi Nat.

Not so much a gadget, well not a gadget at all.. but i would recommend a comfortable, ergonomic, typically very expensive, office chair.  Your bottom will be in it more than you realise and being able to sit down for a long time without discomfort is something else.

If gadget is your bag,  what about a netbook?   I've got a samsung, very cute and very useful.

All the best, and what a nice mother you have.



I find the absence of the nice chair a prob when I work at home (which is rare, so it doesnt matter)

I have a netbook which is nice..except it doesnt have a DVD/CD drive - any laptop will do I believe


A good mind mapping program is well worth investing in. You may even find a free one. I've used a few on my Mac, so can't recommend Windows ones. But others may be able to. Such a program is great for brain-storming more flexibly than on paper. I had one bought for me using my Disabled Student's Allowance, but they're inexpensive/free even if you're not eligible for that.

A digital recorder might also be handy, partly for recording meetings (if all present agree), partly for speaking your own ideas when you have them. Again I got one of these as part of my DSA, but they're relatively inexpensive. Depends on whether you'd use it though. I used it a lot, not for recording meetings, but for recording my own ideas more easily by speaking than typing. I'd play them back and be surprised by some of the ideas I'd had/recorded but had by then forgot!


I would have found a monthly massage very nice I think! I carry all my stress in my back and shoulders and it was agony after a few months, got so bad I ended up having several intense sessions of sports massage and almost weekly massages for a while to loosen me up! Not a gadget but still helps!


When I read the topic title, I instantly thought "EndNote." Good to see you have that covered. It's been a god-send.

It depends on where you work (I share an office with about 6 other students), but I find all the necessary trappings for tea and/or coffee to be amazing. I often find myself completely distracted by one thing or another, and just the motions of getting the water ready and then drinking the tea makes the work much more bearable and brings my focus back.


I think that a digital recorder is a must. You can use it in your research (if you have interviews), you can dictate your own ideas, you can record your meetings (I find it quite difficult to remember everything that was said).
I also found necessary an MP3 player, as I cannot work without a "noise" at the background (music or TV), and when I work in a library, I really need it to block all the other sounds.
Good luck!!!!!


I purchased a decent laptop that I do all my PhD work on. I made sure it had a large capacity to cope with all of the software on it for the next so many years of studying. It needed a webcam, speakers and mic for skype tutorials with my supervisors once I started writing up and was more remote from the uni. I also purchased an external hard-drive to save the files onto in case the laptop lets me down. I originally used flash drives (usb sticks) but found they corrupted quite easily. In the later stages I am quite paranoid about losing stuff lol.

I purchased a few hardback A4 notebooks for writing down data, experimental details, supervisory meetings etc. Everything is entered in date order so these are my evidence that this is my work and thinking behind it. Every now and again I photocopy the pages from these and copyright them as my work too. (A cheap purchase but effective for me!)


Chair idea is good one if you're going to work from home a bit but I think you're a lab-based person??

Also external hard-drive would be a good buy - I kept meaning to get one but never got around to. I have multiple USBs which to be fair have served me well, only one became corrupted but I got an awful fright when it did! I have a laptop which I can 'dock' when I'm in college so I don't work between multiple computers which is great.

Can a body ever have too much stationery?? Just walking into Paperchase is soothing!!


One gadget I recently found useful is my e-book reader. As long as it supports PDFs and note taking (and transferability to the computer), the rest of the specs are up to you. This has helped cut down the weight and amount of paper I carry around on longer trips when I want to get some reading done. I am not going to recommend which one because that could accidentally turn into some sort of X vs. Y and 'yours stinks' type of thing.

Other then that, laptop and voice recorder are good ideas for previously stated reasons. But also see what your school is willing to provide you with, mine decided to get us all laptops as we went to hot-desking.


I brought my self an Ipod touch when i started and it has deffinatly been worth it. can sink it with work calender and when i want emails. i use mendelay as i find it a lot more usefriendly and less buggy than endnote so can download the app for that which can be really useful when you go other libaries or in meetings and need a reference. it also has a digial drop box app so on this i have some powerpoint slides summerising things if ever in place need it and also a cv to hand. it also as some the other said helps with the music (and tv) so not always in silence. it not as big as a laptop/netbook but can be great for when out and about or at conferences etc. there lots others apps got specific to PhD.

I agree with the chair I have an ok one at home but can really tell not my one in office. I have just brought a posh desktop as on 3rd year found laptop screen not big enough comparing multiple pages having lots windows open, so have think what suits you.

Good luck as well with starting


Hi, thank you all for the useful replies - will try to respond to all of the ideas!

I already have a laptop that is serving me quite well even though I've had it for nearly 4 years. I've upgraded it a few times so it still works fine. Will probably need replacing next year but I won't get a new one until really necessary. An external hard drive is a really good idea though I'll probably get one of those soon so that I can back everything up properly. The idea of a netbook is appealing as well though - those who have them - do you still use one when you have a desktop at university and a laptop at home? Just wondering whether it will be worth it. I was thinking of an ipod touch but as I have a blackberry already I can already get my emails when I want, so I don't think it would provide much more, although the apps sound interesting.

I don't work in a lab as I am in the social sciences. I live 60 miles from uni but work from there 2 days a week. We hot-desk but I don't think our school provides us with anything! Space is an issue when working from home as I work in my bedroom. I have everything I need but don't have the space for a posh chair! So I make my chair more comfortable with cushions and it isn't too bad! My dad is clearing out a room at the moment to make into a study (he is doing a p/t MA) so hopefully I'll be able to work in there more comfortably soon, there is a nice chair in there as well.

Mind-mapping software: I downloaded MindGenius on a free 30-day trial yesterday, it looks quite good going to do some work on it now. Does anyone else use this?

I will probably get a voice recorder at some point - definitely when I start to interview participants. Will be looking at the voice recorder thread for more advice on this one!

I am definitely thinking of getting an e-book reader, for PDFs more than books. I have had a quick look online and the Kindle looks like the best to me, and good value. From reading the small print though it looks quite expensive to download word documents, like 20p per MB - doesn't sound like much but I think it would add up on larger documents. Does it cost much to download PDFs? Also I do like making notes myself on paper and I know you can highlight the text - do you find it harder to annotate the text though when it isn't on paper, or do you just get used to it?

AQ - massage idea is great but as I work p/t in a sports massage and physiotherapy clinic I'm already lucky enough to get them for free! Really useful for me as I have arthritis in my back (from falling off my horse) and carry a lot of tension in my back, neck and shoulders.

I think I've been through everything now - it is my birthday soon so can possibly spend a little bit more money as an investment type thing. But I will be frivolous and spend a bit on clothes and makeup as well!

Thanks again, Nxx


with the kindle reader reader you can transfer pdf docs direct from your laptop using the usb connection for free, have'nt got one but thinking of buying one too.


I have a Kindle. Downloading charges only kick in for some documents over 3G. If you download over WiFi, for example at the uni or at home, there's no cost. And if you transfer via USB cable (for example using Calibre e-book program to do conversions for you) there's no cost either.


You can copy pdf files to the Kindle via the USB cable. Or to get larger print, convert them to kindle format.

Assume your kindle email address is [email protected].
Send your pdf file as an attachment to [email protected] with 'convert' in the subject line.

Amazon send you an email when the document is ready (very quick) and you can either save them to your kindle via the USB drive or download by wifi.

It's brilliant.