I remember receiving my first acceptance letter into graduate school. I thought, “Okay, I got this. I’m going to get prepared!” So I did what any nerd would do: I Googled all variants of “How to Succeed in Graduate School.” I purchased the countless books on theses and dissertations; I read through the how-to guides on committees and research. I quickly became overwhelmed with books that weren’t helpful, books that were kind of helpful, and books that I wanted to take out on a date.

Consider us your filter. Through our research and conversations with students and faculty across the nation, we’ve found some fantastic resources to which we turn time and time again. What follows are the cream of the crop, the books that will stand the test of time and change the lives of academics that read them.

Books on Writing and Academia

They Say, I Say, by Gerald Graff and Cathy Berkenstein. We consider They Say, I Say the secret weapon of academic writers. We explore this resource at length in The Grad Academy, and we are always excited to share it with graduate students regardless of their discipline or stage in their program. I remember where I was when my mentor handed this book to me. It was well-worn, dog-eared, and complete with coffee stains. I hadn’t realized that I had just been handed the holy grail of academic writing. They Say, I Say provides the tools to dramatically increase your writing fluency, and we cannot recommend it enough to each and every academic we meet.

How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, by Paul Silvia. I finished my thesis in 6 weeks and my dissertation in 7 months, from start to finish, and I attribute much of that success to Silvia’s practical guide on academic writing. Silvia writes in a clear, practical prose with the intention of making the book something one can go back to when needed. Everything from tracking one’s own writing process to writing for academic publication is included in here, all within very few pages. Jayme and I even had our own Agraphia Club, inspired by Silvia, to hold ourselves accountable. A brilliant book.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen KingI received a dog-eared copy of On Writing when our local library was giving away books. I didn’t think this book could contribute to anything I was writing about in academia. I was so, so wrong. King exposes his entire writing process in this book. More importantly, he explores how he dealt with rejection in his earlier years. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that I could not put this autobiography down.


Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. I went from a disorganized, stressful mess to productivity master the day I read Getting Things Done (yes, one day). I could not put this manual down. Allen’s lessons have now created a cult-like following of productivity-minded people across the web, and his principles are threaded throughout the academic productivity lessons we teach in The Grad Academy.

Taking Care of Your Finances

Jayme and I watched as so many of our peers drowned in debt while drowning in journal articles. Even though we made a combined income of $18,000 per year during graduate school, Jayme and I successfully increased our net worth each year as a result of the following books. While they do not speak of academia, we would argue these books were vital for our pursuit of living financially independent lives.

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. Some come to graduate school for a money-increasing degree (certifications, MBAs, etc.). Others pursue academia with the intention of staying in it. All of us, however, have one thing in common: money. Given the lack of funds available in academia, we need as much financial guidance as we can get. Dominguez and Robin’s work single-handedly changed the way we thought about money. This paradigm shift is so common with readers of this book that the reaction “it changed the way I think” has become a cliché. Do yourself a favor and get this book.

Early Retirement Extreme, by Jacob FiskerNot for the faint of heart, this book will eat you up and spit you out with its razor-sharp reasoning and direct prose. We loved it. Fisker (an academic himself) forces you to come to grips with your own imbedded ideas about money and consumption. Full of practical steps toward living on bare minimum with a smile on your face, I cannot recommend this book enough.

You Are What You Read, So Read the Right Stuff

Each of these books changed our academic and personal lives. We recommend them with pride!

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