Grad school involves being by yourself. A lot. Even when you take a lot of steps to balance out the isolation, being a student necessarily involves a lot of solitary endeavor. You have to read for yourself,* you have to write for yourself, and you have to think for yourself. All of these things can comfortably be accomplished in the presence of other people as long as those people aren’t actually demanding anything from you, and I find for myself that I actually work better when there is a baseline level of atmospheric distraction. I have described it before in these terms: if there isn’t a small level of external distraction, I have to go seek out the distraction (which then occupies my conscious mind much more fully than is conducive to productivity). In other words: if there isn’t chatter in the background, I go looking for chatter on facebook and twitter.
I attribute this desire for a sociable atmosphere to being an extrovert, but I could be wrong about that. What I know is that coffee shops are an expensive study habit; on top of that, even if I choose to study on campus (for free!) studying away from home means that I don’t have access to all the resources I would like to have handy. I can’t carry three books each for my four classes in a single bag, and I feel awkward schlepping two ginormous tote bags around. The dilemma, then: study at home where it is cheap and all of my things are, but I am alone and things are spookily quiet sometimes, or study in public while either imitating a packhorse or risking that I will be without something essential, and also potentially spending money that I could have saved by staying home.
I don’t always choose the same option. Sometimes I really do need to just get out of the house. But when I’m home, I have found a terrific white noise app that helps create the minimal necessary “distraction” so I can focus. The app is called Noisli, and it’s available for Android, Chrome, and iOS. Besides traditional “white noise” sounds like rain, wind, or static, it also has a “cafe” track with plates clinking, distant chatter, and occasional laughter. I layer that with the train tracks and a fireplace sound to create a really cozy background track for studying. It’s actually handy even when you *are* studying in public places, because it can block out the (often very weird!) conversations that people have in public.
tl;dr: Noisli is a great white noise app and it helps me study.
*Admittedly, a it is possible to read for others if you read aloud. But many of the texts one reads in grad school and many of the ways of reading expected by professors are not actually suited to read-aloud. Additionally, the quantity one has to read in grad school would indicate against reading aloud everything that was assigned in a semester. The eye is faster than the ear.