Bike Commuting

BikeMapAside from the (what can feel like an eternally) long winter, Minneapolis is a great city for biking.  Currently, I live about five miles from campus and so when it’s warm enough, I often commute to and from school by bike.  Not only is it practically free (aside from replacing the occasional tire and general bike maintenance), it’s easy to park and is great exercise.  During the fall semester I was able to bike for most of August through October and really enjoyed it.  I’m looking forward to commuting by bike again now that it’s finally warmed up!

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about what works well and what doesn’t.  So, in celebration of a late spring that has finally arrived, warmer days ahead, and plenty of opportunities to bike, here are my nine bike essentials:BikingToSchool

  1. A bike.  Okay, this is pretty obvious.  Recently I’ve been riding an old (free for me) Trek 720, but really any bike will do.  I will say, after trying a few different bikes, I prefer to sit closer to upright when I’m commuting so I try to avoid more “serious” road or mountain bikes.  Usually, though, you can find a great bike for less than $300 on Craigslist or at a local bike shop.
  2. A Timbuk2 bag.  The brand isn’t so important, although I do like my Timbuk2 tote quite a bit, but the easy-to-open top zipper allows me to access my books without taking apart my entire bike basket.  I regularly carry my computer, power cord, 1-2 books, a notebook, a file folder, snacks, and water (among other things) and have never had a problem.
  3. Sunglasses.  I like to bring sunglasses for two reasons.  One, it can be sunny, but also, sometimes when riding on the road cars can kick up dirt and other things, so I like to have some eye protection.
  4. REI Flip-Top Vacuum Tumbler.  This is one case where I feel pretty brand loyal.  After trying several different coffee travel mugs, this is by far my favorite.  First, it has a great seal and so when it’s closed you can turn the mug over and shake it and nothing will spill.  Seriously, I’ve tried.  Second, it keeps things warm for hours.  I’ve burned my tongue on hot tea 4+ hours after making it.
  5. Water bottle.  It’s important to stay hydrated in general, but especially when bike commuting.  I prefer glass water bottles mostly because I don’t like the way that plastic bottles taste after a while.  In any case, find a water bottle you like and fill it up!
  6. Plastic crate.  When my husband and I first started school and were feeling especially poor (after moving half-way across the U.S.) I decided that instead of buying a fancy bike basket, that I would attach a plastic crate we had on hand with some zip ties.  Several months later, I’ve never had a problem.  There is plenty of space for my bag, books if I stop at the library, etc.  Eventually, I might get a better bike basket, but for now, my bright teal crate does its job well.
  7. Comfortable pants.  On a whim I tried the J.Crew Minnie pants and loved them.  Not only do they look professional, but they are ankle length, have some stretch, and are durable.  I find them to be excellent for biking to school, then hopping off for a meeting or class without having to change.  (As a side note, they are technically dry clean only, but I’ve had good luck washing them on a delicate cycle with cold water and hanging them to dry.)
  8. Rain coat.  In the morning it can be quite cool here, so having a raincoat that doubles as a wind breaker can be nice.
  9. Helmet.  Don’t forget the most important part!  I got a fairly inexpensive helmet at REI and it works well.  (And, ladies, if you’re worried about your hair, I found a great tutorial here).

Do you ever commute by bike?  If so, what do you find to be “essential”?


2 Min. Thesis Competition

PhDComicsMovieYou’ve experienced this, right?  Someone asks you about your research.  You start to respond.  And before you get to the really interesting part their eyes glaze over (bad) or someone interrupts and starts a new conversation topic (worse).  Now this doesn’t always happen, of course (although when someone actually expresses real interest I tend to talk their ear off)… but it does happen.

Anyway, Ph.D. Comics has an annual competition where people submit a two minute explanation of their research.  Then, the winners are animated.  It’s pretty fascinating to see the tremendous diversity in what people research for their dissertation/thesis.  It’s also a nice challenge.  Can you describe your research in a way that would be understandable (and interesting) to the average person and only takes two minutes?  Ready… Set… Go!

Out of Print

Ah, that perpetual problem…  What do you wear as a graduate student?  Do you dress professionally?  Do you dress like your professors?  Do you dress like an undergraduate?  Or perhaps you wear some iteration in between?  Even The Chronicle has covered the topic (quite a few times, actually).

In any case, if you’re considering your wardrobe options for the weekend (or for the occasional library day)…  Have you heard of Out of Print Clothing?  They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts, tote bags, mugs, etc. featuring classic books. And if that isn’t enough to tempt you, for each shirt they sell, a book is donated to Books For Africa.  Here are a few of my favorites:


Clockwise from the top left: 1/2/3/4

Surviving Graduate School

As someone still at the very beginning of her graduate career, at times (okay, a lot of the time) the expectations can be quite overwhelming.  Recently I was talking to an old friend and she asked, “How is school?  How is life?”  I laughed… “I think life and school are the same thing right now,” I replied.  Because that is how it feels.

Anyway, on days like today when it snowed 6″ overnight (and is still snowing) and the world still seems to be asleep when I leave my house at 6:45am, it’s nice to know that others have gone before me and have made it through.  And it’s nice to know that others are going through it right now and managing to make it work for them.  If you have a chance, Simply Bike has a great post on “tips for getting through graduate school”, and in general is a wonderful blogger who writes on academia, parenthood, biking, and life.

What encourages you to keep going?

Babies in Cross-Cultural Perspective

A World of Babies

Childhood studies is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on the issues, concepts and debates surrounding the study of children and childhoods.  Although there are several excellent introductory texts, one of my favorites from this field is A World of Babies by Judy DeLoache and Alma Gottlieb.  The book is a collection of “manuals” similar to What to Expect When You’re Expecting from people and cultures from around the world, both historic–the book begins with the Puritans–and modern–the book includes manuals from the Beng, Balinese, Turkish, Warlpiri, Fulani, and Ifaluk perspectives.

The editors write:

Perhaps even more than with most cultural matters, child-rearing practices and beliefs reflect local conceptions of how the world is and how the child should be readied for living in it. […] All child rearing is based on beliefs about what makes life manageable, safe, and fertile for the spirit.  Even with the best, most rational, kindest advice from outside, child rearing will likely always be so.

Anyway, I highly recommend it, if you’re looking for a Spring Break read.  What are you reading these days?  Any thoughts or suggestions?