Quick Tips for Graduate Student Life – Ask for Free Textbooks

Over the last few years, I’ve written several posts on surviving graduate school, including dealing with expectations, managing your finances, coping with failure, and some more general advice. During that process, I’ve also come up with some small, helpful tips that just don’t fit into a broader theme. It seems a shame to let those tips disappear, so, for the next week I’ll be posting Andrew’s Quick Tips for Surviving Graduate School


Tip #3: Ask for free textbooks

This one is so simple it’s often completely overlook. Textbooks are expensive. They get more specialized and more expensive as you advance. If you’re lucky, you have access to an awesome library that will stock whatever you need. Sometimes, you won’t be that lucky.

As a graduate student, you’re not just a student, you’re also an educator. So if you see a textbook you might need, but don’t have access to it, send the publisher a letter asking if they’ll provide a complementary copy. The worst that can happen is they say no, but, in my experience, less than 10% will refuse. Textbook publishers aren’t dumb. They understand the nature of the industry. Some portion of graduate students become professors. Those professors assign textbooks. Publishers want you to assign their textbooks.

As an added bonus, once you get on a publisher’s RADAR, they may ping you to receive advanced copies of new textbooks.

  1. Profs also often have textbooks given to them by publishers, and they’re willing to give away/loan textbooks to lighten their shelves. In exchange for some marking I just did, I received three textbooks, all 2012, 2013, because we both considered it a win-win.

    A second tip is to keep track when various meetings happen. There’s usually left overs when food or snacks are served. Ask a prof or instructor to keep you in the loop. After one such meeting I saw there was lots of subs left so I grabbed a couple, grabbed some drinks and muffins and stowed them in my knapsack. As I sat down to eat the conference door opened and people came out to eat—they’d run quite late so actually hadn’t eaten yet which is why I thought there was lots left. Fortunately, there were still leftovers when they were done and I didn’t have to feel guilty. I alerted fellow students and they grabbed food as well.

    I’m no longer a student and I no longer teach, but the scavenging habits remain—I was doing an evening guest lecture, spotted a trolley full of food, talked to a kitchen staff who said we were welcome to help ourselves. I told the students to grab food, and proceeded to give my lecture while students ate a nice spaghetti dinner with salads, rolls and drinks. Most successful lecture ever, lots of animated discussion and laughter, made me miss my teaching days, and it also filled me with optimism that with students like this coming up, we might not be screwed after all.