Better than a Sweater: 10 items for the impoverished & environmentally-concerned academic in your life

by Kim Frye

As we slide into the winter gift-giving season it is easy to lose inspiration, especially if there are lingering gift exchanges that pop up well past actual holiday dates. I would like to give some unsolicited advice on what makes a good gift for any struggling academic on your gift list. If there is an undergrad, grad, post doc, or junior faculty member in your life, obviously useful and much appreciated gifts include paying months of rent, iPads, or laptops and by all means feel free to splurge on these types of really big gifts. Feel more than free, actually.

However, if your relationship to the academic or your relationship to your bank account do not warrant gifts of this caliber, consider the following list (in no particular order) as a.) a guide to smaller gifts that support an academic life of near poverty, and as b.) a literal and personal wish list for any of my friends and family reading this currently!

Many of the following suggestions will include examples that bear in mind a certain environmental or scientific specificity but one could supplant other more tailored directions if needed.

  1. Professional society memberships – Memberships are not usually inexpensive in general but they can really add up and the more societies we can join, the more professional advantages we gain. Societies provide access to professional networks, job-search resources, lowered admission costs to conferences, workshops, and classes. They also generally help keep us connected to all the latest and most current happenings in our field and do it in a very time efficient way because all information is centralized. For any academic, time will will always be a most valuable currency and if you can save us some time, it will always be appreciated! Ecological Society of America is the big one for ecology related studies, but there is an infinite number of societies out there for all fields of interest and you can really tailor to specializations. For example (hint, hint) I would love to have a gift of ESA membership renewal but ESA is a national society and serves a very broad range of ecological interests. More specialized interests to me would include smaller societies such as Soil Science Society of America or even the Association for Women Soil Scientists (hint, hint).
  2. Courses and certification workshops – There are many extracurricular programs that support our marketability for employment both on and off campus. Environmental science and ecology interests include water reclamation seminars & professional certifications, pesticide application training & licensing, and prescribed fire training.  Beyond courses related to our studies many of us have some (shall we say “eccentric”?)hobbies. In the local environmental science world I see personal interests overlap in music lessons (tell them I sent you!), gardening/horticulture/permaculture, and cooking just to name a few choices.
  3. Small conference admission – there are many small conferences that charge cheaper admission rates around $25-$50. For those interested in ecology or wildlife biology there is a good local conference called Wild Things held every other year;  Unfortunately this is an off year, but you can keep this option on your list to get a head start on next year’s gift giving or you can research other options: I found interesting programs being held this year like Eco-Summit Field trips and Acoustic Ecology with a quick google search.
  4. External hard drives or other great storage options (online storage services). We all work whenever and wherever we can, which means many machines in different locations and usually ridiculous amounts of files (access to all our data, maps, photos, music is all requisite for good working conditions). Help us keep it all together and accessible regardless of where we’ve set up shop for the day.
  5. Books, etc. – There are likely many items on our “to read” lists and some of us have “issues” with the university library. Check online wish lists such as; here individuals can keep track of products on the site that he/she would like to own. You as the gift-giver can go directly to the Gifts & Wish List page and search for your gift target by entering his/her name. This takes all the guesswork out of gift-giving and displays a certain amount attention-to-detail on your part.
  6. Grocery Gift certificate – We are usually starving and easily motivated by free food (either because we’re poor or because we spend too much time thinking about abstract things and forget about tending to pesky chores like eating). Grocery gift certificates are very helpful especially if you can find a CSA that delivers conveniently. Locally my favorite is Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks because they focus on locally grown and produced foods, they deliver and you do not have to be home for the delivery, and they are not a co-op so the only fee you pay is the $5.50 for delivery. They offer gift certificates and your recipient can spend it by simply visiting the web site and clicking on the food they want delivered (Please tell them I sent you because I get free food for every referral!).
  7. Super functional outdoor gear – Campus life is typically walking-based and really great warm hats, scarves gloves, boot-liners, ultra heavy socks, etc…. they go a long way for us. And of course those who study and work in ecology spend a fair amount of time working outdoors so I recommend a quick trip to any local Farm and Fleet or Menards stores as well as giving pretty much anything Carhartt makes.
  8. and on a related topic Freedom of Mobility: CTA passes/gas gift certificates/bike costs (repair, maintenance, accessories).
  9. Quarters – Rolls of quarters are useful for parking, vending machines, laundry, just to name a few needs.
  10. Coffee (duh!) – keep us rolling in gift certificates for coffee shops; you may want to think about local operations (Brothers K, Bourgeois Pig, Uncommon Ground, and Perfect Cup are all good places to start) because we often harbor anti-corporation sentiment. Just check to make sure the shop is on the way to work or nearby their residence and sometimes Starbuck’s is just the better option for these reasons.

I’ve only covered a small number of ideas here and shamelessly admit my self-interest in the suggestions! Please leave us a comment and suggest other good ideas.

And students here’s your chance! Let your friends and family ones know exactly what you need to get through the school year by telling us directly in your comments!


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8 responses to “Better than a Sweater: 10 items for the impoverished & environmentally-concerned academic in your life

  1. I want the gift of uninterrupted reading time…!

  2. Guy thinking about world

    do wweaters fall into category #7

  3. Ann

    why would a sweater fall into #7? I’d think not sir.
    Awesome ideas, thanks. You certainly cant beat coffee, memberships, books and food. 🙂

  4. Tom

    OK. Here’s the breakdown. I knew my Fashion Merchandising undergraduate minor would come in handy one day, as it sure hasn’t until now. Sweaters can be categorized into two main groups: thin-knit and thick-knit. For thin-knit, think merino and cashmere. For thick knit, think chunky ski sweaters… basically, any sort of knit wear involving easily visible knit/purl. In certain climates, a thick-knit sweater could count as outdoor gear. Yet, for Chicago’s somewhat blustery cold, I’d say a more substantial jacket paired with a thick-knit sweater makes good fashion sense as well as common sense. Enter the cardigan. “But its like a jacket,” you might say. Get over it, doll. It’s still a sweater and you’ll feel like a tool when you crystallize mid-step while hoofing it to your destination. 🙂

  5. I humbly admit my apparel bias; I fully believe sweaters to be indoor gear, if only because they just don’t have enough, or even the right kind of, pockets.

  6. Lauren

    This is excellent! I thankfully received fabulous and useful gifts – including a new alarm clock that shows a sunrise and nature sounds. A good alarm clock and coffee are a great combo for a budding academic!

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