How to overhaul your wardrobe for grad school

How to overhaul your wardrobe for grad school — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

I've now been on the other side of grad school for over a year, which is kind of hard to believe because I'm still working on journal articles (the second one from my PhD research was finally accepted!). I started blogging when I was in my second year and it's crazy how much has changed with my life—and style—since then.

During my first couple of years of grad school, my style went through a transformation. Thankfully, I don't have much in the way of photos from my first year, but trust me when I say that I wore a lot of old items from college, including many free t-shirts and my outdated pairs of jeans. I hardly recognize myself when I see those photos of me so I'm glad there aren't a whole lot floating around from that period of time. Ha! I don't remember dressing so scrubby in college—I did have some cute dresses—but I definitely didn't care a whole lot about what I wore once I started grad school.

In between my first and second years of grad school, I discovered ModCloth. And I went overboard buying dresses and skirts from ModCloth, as one does when they first discover ModCloth and have a "real" disposable income for the first time. (In my field, for the most part, grad students earn salaries in exchange for their work in research and/or teaching. They're meager, but it's better than taking out loans to get through school.) It was during this time that I discovered the ModCloth Style Gallery, and consequently, style blogs. That lead to me starting my own blog.

I credit style blogs and my own blogging for my style transformation. I went from being a student that wore free t-shirts and low-rise, bootcut jeans with frayed hems that were too long for me to a twee ModCloth addict to what I am now: a somewhat put-together mashup of girly-meets-minimal cool girl (still working on identifying my style!).

All that to say, I put together this relatively brief guide on how to overhaul your wardrobe for grad school so you don't end up like me buying up an entire brand just for the fun of it. I wrote it with grad school in mind, but it could be applied to medical school or really any transition in life (college, first job, new job, etc). I also included a few widgets with some affordable picks to get you started. The goal in all of this is for you to feel more grown up, put together, and confident as you enter this new stage in your life—and do it all on a grad school budget. :)

How to overhaul your wardrobe for grad school

1 / Evaluate your current wardrobe and your (future) lifestyle

  • What items of clothing do you love to wear?
  • What items of clothing do you hate wearing? (Plan to sell or donate these items depending on condition.)
  • Are there any major holes in your wardrobe?
  • What will your new lifestyle look like? Will you need to dress more professionally? (Teacher assistants tended to dress up more than research assistants.)
  • Consider the climate where you live, especially if it is or will be different than what you're used to

2 / Determine potential swaps/upgrades

  • Wear a lot of free t-shirts? Trade those for a set of basic and maybe a couple of graphic tees.
  • Denim collection feeling outdated? Try a new trend or two!
  • Tired of wearing the same old, same old buttoned-up cardigans? Think about other silhouettes such as long, open cardigans or blazers!
  • Don't be afraid to tailor your items (old or new!) to get a perfect fit; you will likely get so much more wear out of an item if it fits how you want it to

3 / Find inspiration and make a wish list

  • Search Pinterest for outfits or clothes you like (hint: search based off of items you own and love or items you plan to buy, i.e. "fall skinny jeans outfit" or "black blazer outfit")
  • Read style blogs of people whose style you resonate with and save your favorite looks for reference (see list of grad school/academia/medical school bloggers at the end of this post)
  • Make notes of items that would "complete" your wardrobe (hint: focus on any wardrobe holes)—be as specific as possible when describing these items

4 / Set a budget and plan your purchases

  • Write down your monthly take-home income and make note of your monthly expenses
  • Set aside less than 10% of your take-home income on all "fun" expenses, including new clothes (Tailor this number to your situation depending on your expenses; I budgeted about 10% of my post-tax income on clothes/shoes/accessories at first and then dropped it.)
  • Don't buy everything at once; focus on a couple of items at a time and buy during big sales (i.e. holiday weekends) and use your student discount or coupons
  • Keep in mind return policies, especially if shopping online
  • Don't forget about secondhand shopping; check out places like Poshmark or Thredup or, if you have time, browse local thrift shops or online

5 / Enjoy your updated wardrobe!

  • Use your Pinterest and blog inspiration for reference when putting together outfits
  • Realize and embrace the fact that your wardrobe will never be truly complete—your style is always changing and evolving
  • Take time at least once or twice a year to cull unwanted items (donate or sell items on Poshmark!) and make a plan for new items
  • If you nerd out over your wardrobe, start tracking what you wear with the Stylebook app
  • Plan and budget for more "investment" pieces like a work bag or great pair of shoes

Academic life and style bloggers:

A Thinking Animal (STEM professor)

Dress Like an Engineer (PhD candidate / research assistant)

Grad School Style (PhD candidate / teaching assistant)

Life Love and Medicine (medical student)

If you're interested in more in-depth guides, I highly recommend purchasing either the Feel Good, Dress Better workbook by Nicole (if you want to focus on dressing intuitively) and/or The Curated Closet by Anushka Rees (for a more analytical look at your closet). If you're feeling overwhelmed when it comes to wish-listing and shopping, Nicole also offers a curated shopping list service.

More posts about grad school: why I went and advice for prospective students, a day in the life of a PhD student, six outfits to wear at an academic conference

Grad School: Why I went + advice for prospective students

via  Instagram

Now that I'm three months past my dissertation defense and it's been a couple of weeks since my dissertation was officially accepted by the thesis office, which signals the end of my grad school career, I figured now was a good time to reflect on my experience as a graduate student in the Earth sciences. (I also realized that I failed to answer the AMA questions I got back in February, and since most were related to grad school I figured I'd group them all into one post. Apologies for the delay!)


Let's start from the beginning. Growing up, I had a very strong interest in the weather. It was kind of random considering my parents are not scientists and I lived in one of the most boring places ever with regards to weather (the worst weather Boise gets is smoke in the summer from wildfires...ha). I watched The Weather Channel pretty much every day after school and couldn't get enough! I knew that I'd love to be a meteorologist when I "grew up". In 8th grade, we were required to take Earth science and it ended up being a favorite class of mine. When I started looking at colleges my junior year of high school, I specifically looked at schools that had meteorology programs. (I was especially interested in severe weather/tornadoes at the time.)

Despite a respectable GPA, I ended up not receiving enough in scholarship money to make an out-of-state school worth it, so I went to college in my hometown. It obviously wasn't my first choice, but I actually wouldn't trade my undergraduate experience. I was in the Honors College, lived on or near campus, made close friends, went to football games, and really felt like I had a true college experience (minus the crazy partying, which was never my scene). I majored in geosciences with an emphasis in hydrology which basically means that there was no "official" hydrology program; instead, there were "tracks" that students chose to follow (geology or hydrology). Since I knew I wanted to eventually study meteorology, I picked hydrology since it's focused on water and I took classes to help me with grad school, including lots of math which allowed me to also receive a minor in applied math. I also took the one meteorology class I could and loved it.

Since I did not get a bachelor's degree in meteorology and my goal was to eventually be a meteorologist, I knew grad school was in my future. It also became increasingly clear that I probably wouldn't be able to find a job with only a bachelor's degree. My short-term goal after finishing my bachelor's was to get a master's degree. I figured that'd be enough to get a job as a forecaster with the National Weather Service (my original dream job). During my undergrad, I had the opportunity to participate in research projects in my department. I started working with a geophysics grad student between my sophomore and junior years and then switched to hydrology-related research with a different grad student midway through my junior year and continued that through my senior year. I had a short break in between junior and senior years because I studied abroad in Italy for a few weeks, and then after I finished my bachelor's, I did a NASA internship (Earth science-related). All of this research experience helped prepare me for grad school.

I went straight from my bachelor's into grad school (with the NASA internship in between). I had applied for a few schools with meteorology/atmospheric science programs and ended up with offers from two schools (with full salaries + tuition waivers). One school only had a master's program while the second had a master's and PhD program, and I ended up at the latter. My decision was mostly based on the potential research as well as proximity to my hometown. I had originally planned to do severe weather-related research, and the school I chose had one professor doing such research. (Long story short, I ended up with a different advisor doing much different, more hydrology- and climate-related research.)

I finished my undergraduate degree and started my master's degree in 2012, defended my master's degree in fall 2014, and officially graduated/walked in spring 2015; however, in January 2015 I started doing PhD research, and I defended/graduated this past May. My official graduation is this past summer. My undergrad degree took four years, and my two graduate degrees took five years, which is the "standard" timeframe. It is very common to go over that timeframe, especially in grad school, due to changes in funding, research topics, how involved your advisor is, etc. I was adamant about being done "on time" and a lot of people were surprised that it actually happened since it's so rare in my department!


I touched on this a little bit above, but in case you didn't want to read my novel, I went to grad school because my ultimate goal was to study the weather and get a weather-related job and I did not end up getting a bachelor's degree in meteorology or atmospheric sciences. I also wanted to have the best possible chance at securing a job in an increasingly more competitive job market (yes, even in STEM fields it's getting tougher to find jobs with just a bachelor's degree).

I debated a lot when my advisor gave me a PhD offer. I had planned on only getting a master's degree and then finding a job, but I wasn't exactly ready to jump into the real world once that was winding down. It's hard to leave a full salary, a flexible schedule, and the "student life" behind. I was intrigued by the research project I'd be working on, so I decided to stay. I worried about finding a job since I knew I didn't want to be a professor (or in academia), and I thought a PhD would make me overqualified for what I wanted to do, but it ended up working out in the end. I really think timing helped me when it came to finding my job. That said, there are few negatives if you decide a PhD is right for you. How bad it is, really, to gain more applied research experience? Problem solving, critical thinking, computer programming, instrumentation, technical writing, etc. are all excellent skills to have, especially in the geosciences.


Thinking about or starting grad school yourself? First of all, congratulations! Not everyone is cut out for grad school. You really have to either love doing research or tolerate it enough to push through and gain the knowledge and skills you'll be able to use in your future career. If you're not sure that an advanced degree will help you in your field, I'd skip it. That said, I think they do help more than they hurt as far as job prospects go, at least in geosciences.

Things to note: If you want to be a professor, you'll need a PhD. If you want to work in a national lab, you'll most likely need a PhD. If you're an aspiring NWS forecaster like I used to be (I don't think I can handle the schedule personally), you'll need at least a master's, and then you'll need to start as an intern and work your way up from there. I have a friend that got a master's and then decided to continue for a PhD because he wasn't able to secure an intern position. Note that you will probably be moving around a lot as you work your way up unless you get lucky and have people leaving or retiring at your ideal office. Other government agencies (especially federal government) also tend to require at least a master's. Private industry may be more lax on the degree but require more experience (a catch 22 as we all know: need a job to get experience, need experience to get a job).

Don't feel bad if you can't jump into grad school right after undergrad, but do note that it is a lot harder to get back into school once you've been out of it. Obviously this wasn't my experience, but I've heard from many people who did go back after a few years off and it's a struggle. If you want to be there, though, you can work through it!

If you want to be done with your degree(s) in a reasonable amount of time, make sure you have an advisor that will work with you to meet those goals and funding that will last through your timeline. Side note: In the geosciences, I would highly recommend entering a program that gives you a full salary and waives tuition. That basically makes grad school a job and you won't have to worry about student debt. I realize this may get harder with the limited funding thanks to the current administration but it's so nice to not have to worry about second jobs or paying tuition on top of everything else.

Things I learned in grad school: 1) your advisor will likely rewrite/very heavily edit the papers you write so don't take it personally; 2) take advantage of every free food opportunity; 3) if you have to write in LaTeX, use Overleaf for easy writing and to send papers to colleagues or your advisor; 4) avoid updating your computer unless you are explicitly told to by an IT person (I once updated my work computer only to break all the programs that I use regularly and they were not excited to fix it); 5) you will probably have to fight with the thesis office (mine has some of the dumbest rules and you have to do all the edits yourself).

Grad school-related social media you should follow for commiseration: Lego Grad Student, whatshouldwecallgradschool, Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD Comics), Shit Academics Say, Lego Academics

When things get tough (and they probably will every once in a while), remember why you started. Take time for yourself. Remember that the pain is only temporary; you can and will get through it. Enjoy the journey because it goes quickly!

If you have any more questions feel free to ask me in the comments! :)

A day in the life of a PhD student

I've wanted to write this post for a while now since I love to read these posts by other bloggers I follow, and I finally remembered to actually document one of my days! It's definitely not as interesting as people with more rigorous schedules (in my opinion), but it's my real life as a PhD student finishing up soon! (I defend my dissertation at the end of the month, so I've been busy writing the final chapter!) 

Day in the life of a PhD student: Waking up with my cats — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

9:00 AM: My alarm goes off, and I've got Rosie next to my face and Sybil by my legs. I went to bed after 2 am the night before and I like to get as close to seven hours of sleep as possible since I'm groggy if I get less than that. The first thing I do is check my phone and see a text from my boyfriend. He's working the midnight shift so his text suggests he made it home and went to bed. I do my usual check of Facebook, Instagram, and email. Sometimes I throw in Twitter and Snapchat. ;)

9:30 AM: Roll out of bed. I'm proud of myself for not hitting snooze! I actually feel pretty well-rested for once.

Day in the life of a PhD student: Feeding the cats breakfast — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Day in the life of a PhD student: Breakfast and dissertation edits — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

9:35 AM: Feed the cats and then feed myself. They eat this dry food by Natural Balance in the morning (right now Sybil is on a special food for her urinary problems, but she prefers the Natural Balance food, naturally). I eat a bowl of Kix with vanilla almond milk. While I eat, I dink around on my computer. I would usually read a few blog posts but decide to make some edits to my dissertation because I'm supposed to have a meeting later. I rewrite the title of the fourth (and final) chapter but my advisor will probably end up changing it again when he sees it (#gradschooltruth). I use Overleaf so I can work on it from anywhere; it's the best! Highly recommend it if you write in LaTeX.

Day in the life of a PhD student: Everyday makeup — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Day in the life of a PhD student: Outfit of the day — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

9:55 AM: I decide to get ready for the day. I scroll through my past spring/summer looks on Stylebook for an outfit but end up wearing something new (old Anthropologie top, old Madewell jeans, and Sandelles sandals). Once I'm dressed, I put on my daily makeup routine: Smashbox BB cream (right now I'm using "fair", but I think "fair/light" matches my skin best; I misplaced my new bottle of that color, though, of course), NARS creamy concealer (in vanilla), Anastasia Beverly Hills clear eyebrow gel, and Buxom mascara.

Day in the life of a PhD student: Making a pb&j sandwich for lunch — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

10:20 AM: I make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch (grape jelly is my favorite) and scoop out the cat litter since it has been a couple of days.

10:33 AM: I'm ready to go and watching my TransitTimes app to see where the bus is. (I love this app because you can use it around the US/world!)

Day in the life of a PhD student: Catching the bus to school — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

10:40 AM: I catch the bus to school. Public transit here is awesome and included in our student fees so it's worth it to not have to pay for a parking pass and fight undergrads for parking spots. I'm also close enough to campus that it would be silly to drive.

10:48 AM: At my desk. The first thing I do is check for any new job openings. The job search struggle is real! A job I'm interested in was recently re-listed so I keep that in mind. I make some data in Matlab to plot later.

11:56 AM: My advisor walks in to my office unannounced. (I was working, though!) Our meeting with our math collaborator that was scheduled for later today is cancelled. We talked about what I need to get done and when we'll meet next. I get permission to submit my second journal article (third dissertation chapter), finally! 

Day in the life of a PhD student: Lunchtime — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

12:20 PM: Lunchtime! My stomach started to growl while talking to my advisor. I eat my PB&J sandwich and chips while listening to the new HAIM songs and working. The only time I don't work through lunch is if I actually leave my office to meet up with friends.

12:50 PM: I start the process for paper submission and remember how much of a pain it is. It tells me to give it the word count. LaTeX/Overleaf doesn't count for you so I copy the whole thing into Word and use that number even though I didn't take out any of the formatting. At least it's just an estimate...

1:35 PM: Still working on my lunch and still working on the paper submission. I listened to Jojo's new album, Mad Love, in the meantime. (I'm obsessed with it.)

2:26 PM: I finally finish submitting my paper! Gosh that was annoyingly time-consuming. Time to go back to writing the dissertation. I can now add the paper I just submitted into my dissertation as chapter three, but I wait because I sent the link to my math collaborator to look at chapter four and I don't want to make him confused with the page numbering. I listen to some more music (I'm feeling Echosmith and Sia today). 

4:00 PM: I finish eating my lunch, ha! Some days I'm hungry enough to down it in 15 minutes and other days are like today and it takes me a few hours.

4:44 PM: I get so caught up in making figures for chapter four that I waited a couple of minutes too late so now I'll miss the bus I was planning to take home. I decide to keep working until the next bus.

4:51 PM: I get a text from my boyfriend when he wakes up. I'm definitely most productive when he's on midnight shifts and sleeps all day. ;)

4:57 PM: I head out for the bus.

Day in the life of a PhD student: Waiting for the bus home — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

5:04 PM: On the bus home!

5:15 PM: Home sweet home! I love on Sybil, text with my boyfriend and catch him up on my day, and work a bit more on my dissertation. I'm feeling productive!

5:38 PM: I start the oven to heat up some leftovers for dinner (cheesy potatoes and taco salad, a very random combination) and go through outfit photos for tomorrow's blog post.

Day in the life of a PhD student: Leftovers for dinner — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

6:12 PM: I eat dinner and try to start The Voice on Hulu, but I'm having internet connection issues to the Xbox.

6:22 PM: Hulu is finally up and running. I read some blog posts while The Voice is on in the background.

Day in the life of a PhD student: Grocery store run — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Day in the life of a PhD student: Feeding the cats dinner — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

8:10 PM: I wasn't planning to go anywhere tonight, but I need to run to the store to pick up some things to make a treat for a BBQ tomorrow.

8:45 PM: Back home and the cats are bugging me for dinner. They eat the canned version of their dry food. (FYI, it smells awful.) Rosie's bowls are red and Sybil's are blue, so Sybil was naughty and eating out of Rosie's bowl when I took the picture.

8:50 PM: I turn on the next episode of The Voice and get to work on tomorrow's blog post.

Day in the life of a PhD student: Watching Girlboss on Netflix — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Day in the life of a PhD student: Working out in Grana activewear — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

9:30 PM: Once The Voice is done, I switch to watching Girlboss on Netflix on recommendation from my step mom. (Have you seen it? Thoughts?) Still working on the blog post.

10:30 PM: FaceTime with my boyfriend! We do a short but intense 15-minute workout before he goes to work and then I go back to working on my post while we talk. I need to decide on another outfit photo or two.

12:27 AM: I get distracted and pay a bill before placing an online order (#priorities #adulting). Post still isn't done.

Day in the life of a PhD student: Rosie drinking out of the faucet — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Day in the life of a PhD student: Time for bed — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

1:25 AM: The post is finally done and scheduled. If it's not totally obvious, I have a hard time staying focused sometimes. Haha. Now it's time to shower! Rosie joins me in the bathroom; she gets to drink out of the faucet while I'm showering. She's spoiled.

2:14 AM: Lights out! I wanted to be in bed earlier than the night before but that didn't happen, as usual. ;)