Graduated AF: Modern Conveniences

I’ve been bouncing this blog post idea around for a bit. It definitely is not for everyone and I want to address that right off. Graduate student stipends are so varied even within a single university. Not everyone can afford to live on a grad student stipend alone. Not everyone can afford to spend money on some of the items I’m suggesting in this post. Loads of graduate students are still paying off loans from undergrad, or even accruing more as they study. I can’t address everyone’s financial status in one post. But I am privileged enough to be able to scrape together enough to afford some of the following every so often and have found that they can be a great help in regard to time and stress. And what graduate student wouldn’t want more time and less stress?

Several of the links in this post include referral links from the author. 

Continue reading “Graduated AF: Modern Conveniences”


Being an Involved Grad Student

A.K.A How to being involved AND score free meals

I’m a fairly involved graduate student. Rachel is as well. The benefits are numerous, but some of the top reasons we like to be involved include contributing to our respective departments and universities, building our C.V., access to amazing workshops/events/etc, in addition to always knowing where the free food on campus is located! Below are some of our top ways for you to get involved within your own programs!

Check Your Emails

Inbox Success! Now to stay on top of it!

I cannot believe the amount of people in my department who don’t keep up with their inbox! It’s not so scary to peek in and give them all a read. Then also, don’t be afraid to delete them! Granted, I’m on the far other end of this spectrum, constantly checking, deleting, and sending emails to the other students in my department. Zero email inbox is my happy place. Trust me though, there are plenty of opportunities waiting for you to read about in your inbox! I get emails about social events, workshop opportunities, conferences, class announcements, etc.
Free Food Score: 2 out of 5 Pizzas.

Join your GSA (or START one)

The level of involvement will surely vary between departments, but I’ve found that even my department’s small (and frankly, underutilized) Graduate Student Association is full of potential! When I arrived at PSU our GSA was just called SAC and it was a loosely defined organization with just a string of presidents who took responsibility for organizing a social event every so often. No one really knew what SAC stood for. I think Student Advisory Committee, but it was neither quite a committee nor advisitory. Luckily, we voted at our last meeting to officially change it to Statistics Graduate Student Association! In my short time being involved (since last fall) I’ve served as webmaster and made a bad ass website for us, organized weekly grad student workshops that now have Panera catering, organized a successful laser tag outing, AND been promoted to vice president. I’m looking forward to running for president next year. If your department doesn’t have a group already, ask around and check into the procedures for creating a campus group! It’s a mostly painless process and usually once recognized, you’ll be able to apply for funding.
Free Food Score: 5 out of 5 Pizzas

Check out College/University Level GSA Groups

Often the lifestyle of a grad student dictates that you spend the majority of your time on campus in a very few number of locations, interacting with only a limited number of colleagues. If you’re anything like me then you probably love to nerd about about your chosen field of study and you enjoy hanging out with others who share that passion! It can be hard to meet graduate students in other fields, but once you do it can open a whole new social aspect of your grad student life! Check to see if your school has graduate associations at the college or university level and check out their calendar for events that will draw in students from all across campus. Penn State’s GPSA hosts a plethora of amazing social events, workshops, coffee hours, talks, etc all year long, including a giant end-of-the-year field day for grad students. These organizations are also key for staying informed and involved with grad student rights and issues. Health care is a key issue for everyone insured through their university and there a lots of changes still taking place through the Affordable Care Act. Make sure that your voice is heard!
Free Food Score: 4 out of 5 Pizzas

Note the intimidating countdown until
the hardest test of my life. Blarg.

Be an Officer

The current student associations don’t have quite what you like going on? Be that change you want to see! Get involved. Get elected. Join committees and plan some events to your liking! You can also choose your level of involvement. Remember, everyone else is also a graduate student so they’ll be more than understanding if school, research, life gets more involved. I especially enjoy my role as webmaster where I’ve been able to create web pages through PSU’s partnership with WordPress. It’s much simpler than I anticipated and such a great tool to have learned.
Free Pizza Score: 3 out of 5 Pizzas


Academia is quickly taking over Twitter. I love using it to keep up with current events and issues in science, as well as living vicariously through Anna Kendrick. Even if you don’t want to keep up tweeting from an account, you can still use one to cultivate lists of accounts to follow. I keep a list of accounts that provide relevant Penn State and statistics news so that I can have them on our SGSA website in a convenient Twitter widget. My hope is that even the students and faculty in Stats that don’t tweet (a LOT of them) still have easy access to the information. It’s a great place to hear about research, events, funding opportunities, jobs, free food, and sports.
Free Food Score: 1 out of 5 Pizzas 

Offer to Show Prospective Students Around

You were a young student applying for grad school not so long ago. You remember how nerve-racking the whole process is! Volunteering to take a prospective student out to lunch is a win-win situation. You get to tell them your honest feelings about the program and possibly your advisor (Check out last week’s post for more on this!) so they are fully informed and you both get lunch, usually paid for by your department. My department is having our recruitment day next friday and I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I was in their position. That visit and the emails I exchanged with two students really sold me on choosing Penn State and Statistics for my PhD program. I’m so happy to be here and to have the opportunity to help guide potential new graduate students towards a similar decision!
Free Food Score: 5 out of 5 Pizzas

If there’s anything we’ve missed or if you’d like to share your own experiences let us know! 

Eco-Life Hacks: Homemade Greek Yogurt

OK, you probably should be a little weary of
someone who eats as many beets as I do. Fair ’nuff.

Nearly two months into my life in State College and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I am already branded as the hippie chick. What do you expect from a biologist turned statistician?! I can’t help it though; if people bring up podcasts and DIY kitchen adventures, I’m going to be all up in that conversation. If you join me for dinner you’ll notice that my kitchen is fully set up while my dining table is a moving box. Priorities. If my apartment building doesn’t have a compost bin but there is one outside of my multivariable calculus course, then I am going to carry my compost to campus in a airtight container and dispose of it responsibly. If you invite me to watch the US/Ghana game, I’m definitely going to bring a healthy snack of veggies and hummus. And if you mention homemade yogurt, then I will get super excited and discuss my love for plain, Greek yogurt made by yours truly. Them’s just the facts.

Does anyone else remember inspecting their yogurt container from their lunch box and wondering what ‘live cultures’ meant? I think I was in denial for a while. This may have lead to my love/hate relationship with yogurt, until I finally fell for plain Greek yogurt. I just couldn’t stand the fruit booger filled yogurts (editor’s note: I second this opinion in my non-dairy based yogurt consumption!). But now, between my partner and I, we eat a lot of yogurt. Yogurt in smoothies. Yogurt with fruit. Yogurt with granola. Yogurt with protein powder. Yogurt with honey from my favorite farmer, buddy boy Matt Ak’s hive! *goes to eat a bowl of yogurt!* If you are on our level of yogurt consumption, you should consider making your own at home. It’s way easier than you’d think, and you’re rewarded with delicious yogurt containing no surprise ingredients. You should anticipate making yogurt fairly often (more than once per week if your schedule allows it) and buy milk accordingly. Did I mention it’s easier than you think?! 

I can’t recommend CSAs enough. Look at all
the veggies I get in addition to a dairy
 share (milk, eggs, cheeses, etc).

To make yogurt you’ll just need: milk, thermometer, source yogurt, pot, cheese cloth, and (reused!) container(s). To add to our super sustainable lifestyle, we use local, whole, unpasteurized milk in returnable bottles. In Louisville, Kentucky, I’d found this type of milk at Earth Fare and a local food shop. Here, we have a dairy share with our CSA box and get a gallon of raw milk every so often, but it’s also available at the local farmer’s markets. Check around your area to see if local is an option. Sale of raw milk is totally legal in PA, but make sure and check your local laws about dairy sales. If you have a thermometer with an alarm you’ll be so very happy. We don’t, and every so often we don’t catch our creation before it passes the threshold temperature. If you let the milk boil, then usually your yogurt won’t turn out well. Cheesecloth is a solid investment for anyone who likes to DIY in the kitchen. Please don’t use it once and then throw it out. We’ve used the same cloth every time we’ve made yogurt and just given it a good cleaning after each use. Easy, healthy, delicious.

But what exactly is going on once you add the source yogurt in those 12 hours of sitting? Oh, no big deal, just the milk is being fermented via prokaryotic microorganisms which produce lactic acid causing milk proteins to solidify. Whaaaaaat? Not only that, but the bacteria in the yogurt is good bacteria, or probiotics, that help your tummy zoo keep away bad bacteria. Well…that sounds handy. The bacteria grow to a high enough concentration in the yogurt that they can even get past stomach acid. Safety in numbers! It’s great to replenish your internal micro-organismal environment, as it can be easily disturbed. Factors such as stress, sickness, antibacterial medicine, parasites, and daily excretions. Yogurt to the rescue!

Freshly made this week! I’m enjoying it with
some honey and blueberry granola!

Follow this easy recipe for your own plain, Greek yogurt! You’ll know exactly what ingredients go in and save money in the process. My recipe is based on a hodgepodge of different online recipes with some extra notes added. If you want regular yogurt, just skip the straining steps!

1 Qt. Milk
5 oz. Source Yogurt

Stirring apparatus
Cheese Cloth
Straining Setup


  1. Heat all milk save for a few ounces in large pot to 180˚. I keep the stove on a low setting so that it heats slowly and you don’t miss when it boils. On my stove this takes about 10-15 minutes, but it’ll vary. Set a timer the first time you make yogurt, then you’ll know for future endeavors!
  2. When milk reaches 180˚, remove from heat and keep an eye on it as it cools. Meanwhile, mix the source yogurt and the milk you didn’t heat together.
  3. When the milk reaches 115˚, add the yogurt mixture. Mix thoroughly. Some recipes say not to disturb the film on top, but I’ve never had any issue with it. The milk usually takes at least 30 minutes to cool, but keep a close eye!
  4. Turn on your oven to the lowest setting and let it warm up a bit. Place milk mixture into the oven. If necessary, pour into oven safe glass bowl. Turn the oven back off – it should stay warm. Place towel over top and let it be for 10-12 hours.
  5. The mixture should be thicker in texture after this time. Line a colander (strainer) with cheesecloth and pour the mixture in. Allow liquid to drain, squeezing if need be. 

Greek Yogurt achievement unlocked! Enjoy with your favorite toppings or on its own!