Purple paper, pens, and painkillers: inside a grad student’s bag

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Have you ever played that game where you guess what’s in strangers’ bags while you’re commuting?

I carry two bags with me to school every day — my backpack-style leather briefcase and a small cross-body purse. I used to use a regular backpack for school, but since starting my PhD, I figured I needed something a bit more professional looking. But, I don’t want my shoulder to separate from carrying a briefcase with a shoulder strap. So I found this briefcase with backpack straps and fell in love. I carry the small purse so that I don’t have to whip the backpack off every time I need my wallet.

Here’s what I keep in ’em:

In my purse:

  • my skull-patterned wallet and my bus pass, my cell phone, and my keys: the essentials
  • a pack of tissues that double as napkins and toilet paper in an emergency
  • cough drops for after I teach and my voice is like a frog’s
  • my DivaCup just in case I’ve lost track of what day of the month it is
  • a tiny pillbox filled with painkillers (decorated with a sticker I made)
  • lip balm, applied obsessively, especially when worrying about something
  • my fav hand cream by TokyoMilk, applied in a similar fashion to the lip balm
  • chewing gum for after coffee cause euh
  • collapsable headphones to drown out the noise from the bus… and the noise from the freshmen on the bus

In my backpack:

  • a water bottle that is still somehow sufficiently goth
  • my laptop in its laptop case for added protection, because I somehow seem to constantly forget I’m carrying something very valuable
  • a writing ledger/clipboard thing and a pad of (purple!) paper
  • a USB stick I haven’t yet lost
  • inexpensive pens, hi-liters because they will disappear
  • a tiny notebook for thoughts about my thesis that I’ll probably never actually use
  • a canvas bag I can fold up really small in case I need to buy something or take off a layer of clothing in the fickle southwestern Ontario weather
  • a protein bar
    for when the line at Tim Horton’s is 100-people deep
  • sunglasses, year-round, cause if it’s not the sun, it’s the snow that’s blinding you.

Well here’s what’s in my bag. What’s in yours?

Comments on Purple paper, pens, and painkillers: inside a grad student’s bag

  1. Is this the first of a series? Somehow a bag tour seems easier than a room/home tour, which I’ve been meaning to submit for ages…

    I’m in love with your backbriefcase!

  2. Awesome post. My dad bought me a lovely leather briefcase years ago, and I’ve just started using it again! It was too fancy for undergrad (and for most of my PhD too in fact). Here’s to looking a bit more professional now that I am Dr Katy.

    What’s your PhD on, Caroline?

    My bag: Leather Hidesign briefcase

    In my bag:
    – Moleskine diary
    – a couple of photocopied articles
    – small notebook for jotting down notes
    – Stabilo pens
    – a pencil
    – Burt’s bees lip balm
    – mini Benefit lip gloss
    – throat sweets
    – Polo mints
    – refilled plastic water bottle
    – tissues
    – painkillers
    – couple of elastoplast
    – headphones (to be attached to phone while walking, or laptop when at the office)
    – Keys (many many keys)
    – wallet with cards etc

    I keep extra makeup, notebooks, pens, snacks and emergency medical supplies at my office, which is fortunately not shared, otherwise people would probably think I was quite weird. I keep an extra cardigan there too in case of unexpected coldness, and I also keep a couple of canvas bags around in case I need to carry something bigger home. My work laptop also lives in my office, though it’s light enough to take home if I think I’ll need it (but I rarely do, because dropbox).

  3. 1. Can you please make this a regular thing. Like a First Tuesday Whats in Your Bag post. So fun.
    2. I am really impressed with how your bag contents coordinate and still look personal. I feel like all the stuff in my bag is either totally rando or just what ever was on sale in the bins near the register at H&M. If someone saw them they wouldn’t be able to tell they are mine.
    3. I so want that briefcase backpack!

    • “This!” to #2!

      It reminds me of a friend I had in college whose fashion choices tended towards goth. She somehow managed to convert her drab dorm room into a totally cohesive, entirely personalized, magical goth-y home. I still think about that (10+ years later) and envy her.

  4. I am also in love with your bag, and I see that it is currently on sale! Before I give in to my consumer desires though, could you tell me what size your laptop is? I’ve been looking for a bag like that for a while, but my computer is too big for most of the ones I’ve seen.

  5. This item on your list, “lip balm, applied obsessively, especially when worrying about something” has inspired me to write a guest post about how I kicked my lip balm habit. Chapstick used to be one of my purse must-haves, and now it usually remains at home.

    • I was thinking about this, as over-reliance on any product means that your body stops producing its own way of keeping your lips moist and chap-free. Though, as it stands, I have stuck a tonne of coconut oil of my lips today because I’ve sick, and night-mouth-breathing has left them stinging 🙁

  6. Even as a person training to be an architect I still haven’t fully committed to the leather bag yet… Though admittedly I want to, my tastes are too expensive for my wallet. I’m currently both a student and a business owner (I started an architectural design business with two others).

    – iPad
    – Two iPad input pens, pencil by 53 and a paintbrush
    – Small Moleskin for sketching
    – Larger notebook for note taking
    – A ridiculous amount of pens and pencils
    – Cellphone (doubles as a camera)
    – Usually a set of drawings and/or specs for a project
    – Business Card Holder
    – Wallet, which is tiny and made of denim and cork
    – Steel Toes (sometimes I bike to site inspections so the steel toes go in the bag like everything else)
    – Hard Hat – carabinered on to the strap
    – Bike Lock & Key

    My bag was given to me by a fantastic redactor, and it’s gigantic which is the perfect size for the ridiculous amount of things I carry.

  7. Oooo, your bag is on sale & it’s less than the stripey rolling bag featured recently — I’m in need of a new commuting bag 🙂 My current one can’t take the strain from all the crap I carry on the train / walk to work.

    I carry…
    –my iPad in a leather BookBook case (looks like an old book)
    –a wifi hotspot device in a damask fabric case
    –prescription sunglasses in a hot pink hard leather case
    –my lunch (currently a protein shake & bar in a shaker cup, but just as often a Lean Cuisine frozen meal or leftovers in Tupperware)
    –tissues in a fabric cover
    –a ChicoBag reusable tote
    –mini box of Altoids
    –felt case of Moo personal calling cards
    –vintage metal card case with my work business cards
    –random assortment of ballpoint pens

    In various pockets:
    –work badge
    –house keys
    –iPhone & earbuds
    –2 fancy vintage pillcases filled with migraine meds
    –vintage compact mirror
    –lipstick of the day
    –Burt’s Bees lip balm
    –tiny nail clippers
    –small nail file

    On the way home, I put my empty coffee commuter cup in my bag too.

  8. Ooo! I like this game!

    As a J.D. student, I’ve had to really think through what I bring back and forth from home because I have some chronic neck pain I try not to exacerbate. Example: If I have my backpack, I don’t carry a purse, because it’s just an extra burden on my shoulders. I ride the train to school/work so although I have a roll-y backpack for when my neck is really bad, I try not to use it because it is a PAIN for me and everyone else.

    Here’s what I carry around:

    Blue LL Bean Backpack (because I am cheap and good at breaking things and those things have a lifetime guarantee!):
    – Laptop with Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” skin
    – 4 color pens in pink/light green/purple/light blue (I like them better than highlighters!), lots of other random pens and highlighters
    – 1 Textbook (I’ve arranged it so I leave two at school in a student organization office I have the code to)
    – Smart phone with headphones to: drown out catcallers, help me concentrate with my white noise app while studying
    – Comb, extra makeup
    – Prescription sunglasses (I get migraines and the sun hurts meeeee),
    – Bottle of painkillers
    – Vera Bradley Wallet (has lasted forever), Keys
    – Tupperware, spoon, and can of soup
    – Flowery embroidered handkerchief (because winter in Chicago usually makes my nose go nuts)
    – Light jacket/sweater (classrooms get cold)

    Depending on the weather (Chicago can be fun!), I may also bring:
    – Light/Heavy coat
    – One of my various pink/purple scarves
    – Beanie from one of my favorite breweries (Three Floyds!)
    – Gloves with touch screen-friendly front three fingers (necessary!)
    – Umbrella printed with Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street: Rainy Day”
    – If I’m wearing heels or rainboots/snowboots? Flats.

    I also have access to my legal fraternity’s office (I’m “Justice,” really president, only I sound like a superhero), so I deliberately leave a lot of stuff in there to save my shoulders. Like:
    – Two textbooks (I do my reading before or after my classes when I can)
    – Extra notebook in case I randomly need to take down notes by hand, like if I left my laptop cord at home
    – Coffee tumbler (because coffee is amazing)

  9. This post has actually inspired me to sort through my bag and actually clean it out. It’s a green canvas bag I found at a thrift store somewhere. Here are the contents:

    – Handmade felt wallet with a seedling embroidered on the front. I am picky about the shape and size of my wallet, so years ago I started just making my own.
    – Handkerchief, because my nose runs often. Allergies, chilly weather, spicy food, whatever. I always seem to be a little drippy.
    – Mora carving knife
    – First aid kit in a tin of pirate bandaids. I keep tiny bottles of yarrow tincture for bleeding and osha root tincture because I work outdoors but have never been stung by a bee and I’m scared that I am allergic, hah.
    – Tiny bottle of sunblock
    – Bobby pins
    – Moleskine journal with grid paper.
    – Several Pilot G2 gel pens, either 05 or .035
    – Baggie of tiny milkbone dog treats
    – Bags for picking up dog poop (I have a dog, if you hadn’t guessed)
    – Water bottle
    – Phone
    – Keys
    – A couple alprazolam, just in case
    – Usually a snack of some kind. Today it’s an apple.
    – A tiny notebook for misc. notes, ideas, directions, etc.

  10. I have two bags depending on the days activities:

    A purple Storm laptop bag for just uni days as the laptop format works really well for A4 sheets and books
    A ginormous sky and navy blue gym bag with a pole dancer motif for when I’m going to pole classes (I carry a pair of trainers and a pair of heels alongside all the other crap I take to uni)

    I have a small make up bag that contains all my little bits like paracetamol, tampons, wipes, hair brush etc. I transfer that and my purse and glasses between the bags quickly and I know I still have everything just in case. They also go into my weekend Radley bag quite nicely too!

    But yeah, I’m that jerk on campus with the giant gym bag

  11. I am a daycare teacher and I carry two bags to school each day.

    – Lunch! Usually containers containing a sandwich, fruit, and veggies.

    – leather wallet
    – coin purse filled with gift cards that I keep forgetting about
    – cellphone
    – book light
    – book to read (while kids have nap time)
    – deodorant (I sweat an uncomfortable TON)
    – extra pad/tampon
    – pen/pencil
    – keys!

    Wow…fairly boring. Oh well 🙂

  12. My bag is so full of handy and just in case stuff that my friends have started dubbing it my Hermione/Mary Poppins bag. From a mini sewing kit to bandages and painkillers, I have got pretty much every minor disaster covered.

      • My secret is tiny amounts of everything. I carry about two or three pills of every kind of medication I take with me, a miniature bottle of hand sanitizer, a mini sewing kit, etcetera. Almost all of that stuff fits into one little pocket in my purse. 🙂

  13. Over the years, my bag and contents keep changing. Now I have a stable desk so some things are stored at work because that is where I spent a huge chunk of my time.

    On a typical day, my bag is as follows:
    – iPhone (which doubles as a notepad, calendar, book to read)
    – iPad (technically for work)
    – wallet containing pretty much everything
    – sunglasses
    – fold up grocery bag in pretty green swirls in case I buy something
    – small notebook I almost never use
    – 4 or 5 lipsticks because I don’t put on lipstick until I’m leaving the house
    – pen
    – office keys and regular keys (it’s too big a wad to be a single key chain)
    – a few USB sticks which rarely get use
    – tampons just in case
    – portable sewing kit just in case
    – tictacs
    – Advil in a bottle because I try to have a really good stash
    – small folding scissors because my mom taught me how useful they are
    – business card holder (currently pretty empty because I don’t have any because a term position means potential change)
    – tissues – preferably cute ones that are less useful but adorable anyway

  14. This is a super fun post! I won’t share everything in my bag right now but one of my FAVORITES is my Mighty Purse!

    It’s a wallet thing… That CHARGES YOUR PHONE!
    It’s saved my butt so many times! It seems to work better for Android than iPhones, and for iPhones you have to buy an adapter. It has been perfect for me so far!

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