Pack Your Bag …

by Lorien E. Menhennett

When I walk into an office supply store, I feel like a kid in a candy store. I really do. Only better. Aisles, aisles, and aisles of all colors, shapes, and sizes of things that will *supposedly* make my life better and easier; more productive and more organized. And to a student, one who plans on going to medical school, that’s way better than a chocolate bar that’s gone in a matter of minutes.

OK, so maybe writing my anatomy notes in metallic cyan gel pen won’t make my life better. But I have found some office supplies that do help me stay better organized, productive, and efficient. (And yes, I find them fun, too.)

Note: I don’t normally endorse specific products or brands. It goes against my grain. But in this case, I am making an exception, because I have truly found that there is a difference between brands of highlighters, erasers, pens, etc. Take this all with a grain of salt, of course; I haven’t tried every brand out there. But this is what works for me. Happy studying!


I am a highlighting maniac. I highlight my books, research articles, sometimes even my class notes. But I found that the typical, average, everyday highlighters – the ones you buy in packs of 10 for $5 – just weren’t cuttng it. Plus, I’m a color freak. I use different-colored highlighters to signify differing levels of importance, for example, or to connect themes. So buying a big box of yellow markers wasn’t helpful to me. Somehow I stumbled across liquid highlighters, which seemed like a great idea because the regular ones were just too dry. I read a bunch of customer reviews on and decided on Zazzle Brights. I absolutely LOVE them. They’re not perfect – a couple of the darker colors are really dark – but they’re totally worth the money.

No, I’m not talking about the good old Stars and Stripes. I’m talking about another way to mark your place in a book or article – sticky plastic (or paper) flags. Post-it makes great ones, although they’re quite pricey. I happened to find a giant pack of flags at the dollar store once (albeit a generic brand), which was a great deal. If you find these on sale, I recommend stocking up.

Storage Clipboard
I am going to shift gears a bit here and talk about how to organize note-taking. First of all, I hate spiral notebooks. I just do. You can’t add anything to them. So when the professor gives you any handouts, you have to stuff them inside your spiral notebook and hope you don’t lose the papers. So what I do is take notes on college-rule paper. But to do so, you need a hard surface to write on. And those little desks that fold up from lecture hall chairs are often about the size of a coffee cup. I’ve found that using a clipboard, and setting it on my lap, works well. I found the coolest clipboard last year – one that pops open to reveal a storage compartment (for those handouts) and also has a smaller storage compartment for a pen or pencil. Highly recommended.

Three-Ring View Binder 
(with momi paper)
If you take notes on college rule paper, you obviously have to put those notes into a binder. I like the view binders, which have a plastic cover across the front and so allow you to slip something inside. Photo collages are one option, but I’ve elected to go the artistic route, using a special art paper called “momi paper” (from also), cut to fit inside the plastic sleeve. The paper comes in all colors, and it turns each binder into a work of art.

Plastic Dividers With Pockets
Another necessity for binder-style note-taking is using dividers to separate each section. Personally, I use one binder per class, and then create separate sections in each binder for different types of notes and/or handouts. Example sections include class notes, exams, quizzes, equation sheets, and so on. It totally depends on the class. I like the dividers with pockets so that you can slip something inside in case you don’t have time to hole punch it right then.

Hole Punch
Which brings me to my next necessity: a hole puncher. And not one of those cheapy ones that you can slip into your backpack. A nice, heavy duty one (which means it will be heavy). My strategy is to hole punch and organize my notes and handouts (which are stashed in my clipboard) every few days. Every day is a great goal, but I just don’t seem to get around to it. I don’t have a particular brand recommendation here – just make sure this is hefty, and punches nice holes. If you buy one online, read the customer reviews first.

Graph Composition Notebook
When it comes to scientific research, though, a 3-ring binder is not the way to go. You need a composition notebook – the kind that you can’t tear sheets out of, or add to. I prefer the graph sheet type, because it makes creating charts and tables easier. Again, the brand here doesn’t matter, as long as the paper is of decent quality.

Bleed-Resistant Pens
When you keep a lab notebook, there’s always the risk that something might spill on it. That’s just the reality of things. It might be water, it might be hydrochloric acid. Regardless, if liquid spills on your paper, you don’t want your ink to bleed all over the place (that makes reading your writing a tad difficult). So it’s best to use pens that resist bleeding. This was the recommendation of my chemistry professor from last semester, and it totally makes sense. I tried uni-ball’s Vision Elite pens (which come in a lovely array of colors), and I love them. No bleeding, no starting and stopping. Fluid, flowing ink. And not super expensive, either.

Dr. Grip pens and pencils
If you’re just taking notes for class, however, I recommend something else: Dr. Grip pens. Specifically, the Center of Gravity model. Very cushy and comfortable to hold, totally worth the price. For math and physics (or other practice problem-oriented courses), the Dr. Grip pencils are also great.

Hi-Polymer Eraser
For those practice problem-oriented classes, you’re also going to need an eraser. My favorite, by far, is Pentel’s Hi-Polymer Eraser. No black marks – seriously. Awesome.

I could to on, but these are the highlights. (Pun intended.) If you have any of your own favorite office or school supplies, feel free to leave a comment on my blog. I’m always looking to add to my backpack arsenal.