Finding and having hobbies during grad school

I wouldn't call the summer "down time", since there is plenty (aka >8 hrs/day) for me to do this summer in my labs, but the majority of my 24 hour days aren't spent in lab. Usually, I'm in lab for 5 - 8 hours this summer and I come home to a variety of hobbies -- which I may or may not have annoyed you with either via Twitter or in real life.

I find it strange to encounter people without hobbies, especially in grad school. Hobbies are a huge way to get your entire being away from your grad school life. It's a way that really keeps people sane, in my opinion. And for a long time, I thought everyone either had or picked up hobbies extremely quickly. But it turns out, that's not the case for everyone.

The cases of AA and BB

Person AA admits they don't have a hobby. And it's true. Me and AA have spent a lot of time together and they really, truly, don't have something that they "just do". And it's not like they don't have talent or skills -- AA can cook well, AA can play guitar, AA is a computer programmer and web developer, AA is well-read -- AA simply has to force themself to do anything. There's no passion or excitement to grab a guitar to play, or look up book reviews to find a new one to read, or scour Tumblr food porn accounts for cooking inspiration. AA finds the act of looking for a hobby a chore.

Person BB doesn't admit they don't have a hobby and will reference their many things they do, but only for temporary and usually in reaction to something. BB has been to the gym with me a couple times, but that was seemingly in reaction to my enjoyment of lifting weights. BB hasn't been back nor seeks to go back with me. BB plays video games occasionally, but generally in reaction to everyone else talking about some amazing game that had just come out. They play for a few days, find something they don't like, stop playing. BB ends up seeking out many hobbies, most of which never stick. Hobby-seeking itself could be considered a hobby, but BB doesn't necessarily find pleasure in the seeking. BB wants to find pleasure in the activity and has yet to.

I've had more time with AA than I have had with BB and both aren't too different from each other. AA has a lack of inspiration which tends to lead towards a lack of creativity or leadership when me and AA are doing things (or at least, trying to do things) together. BB also has this lack of creativity, lack of leadership, lack of initial excitement, lack of "spirit" or whatever you want to call it. AA's story is a bit tragic in the sense that AA's lack of commitment has driven them to many paths -- all of which they are not passionate about. BB has a similar vibe about them, in which they aren't necessarily enthusiastic about any particular engagement -- everything is work. And BB wants to find a thread of excitement or enjoyment or happiness in science, but is failing to do so.

My friends who have hobbies mostly have a happy quality of life about them. They either enjoy or are content about their job. They find time to do their hobby or hobbies. They are generally more outgoing or social than AA or BB. They are also generally more pleasant to be around than AA and BB, which is sort of sad to say because I really like AA and BB!

How do we find a hobby?

The act of finding a hobby has really interested me over the years since it seems alien to me and to others with hobbies for someone to have to actively seek out their obsession/passion. When searching for "hobbies in grad school" these posts came up:

Chris Stawski discusses the work/life balance in grad school on GradHacker. I find this to be something people always talk about, but seemingly miss the idea of trying to "prove" yourself in GS. Stawski does a good job at describing the idea of proving yourself by tackling all work at all times whilst feeling guilty when you aren't doing GS work.

Edward Davis talks about different recommended hobbies you should pick up in GS on his UOregon blog. He concludes by saying hobbies are helpful for insight and health and overall longevity as a research scientist.

Chuck Fidler discusses surviving grad school and how hobbies aid your mental health on CoHE. This post is a lot more of reaffirming you're doing the right thing when being in the trenches of grad school as opposed to hobby-hunting, but all important reminders.

A sort of stock blog on five hobbies you should consider in GS by This is more akin to advice someone off the street would give you that you might think about as you walk away but then not think of again after that day ends. These are all good hobbies for someone who would be interested in these hobbies. But something lacking from this post, as well as these other posts, is the step before doing the hobby -- what drives someone to pick up a hobby?

Sure, well-being, mental health, de-stressing, etc. are all good reasons, but I reckon there lies a thread under all of these one-phrase responses to how you ended up getting into your hobby. That's something AA and BB both don't have. I wish I could incept them with the idea that hobbies are inherently good, but that's 1) probably unethical and 2) fictional.

I'm not exactly sure what the link is between success in grad school and hobbies, or if there even is one, but here are some interactions with some of my tweeps and hobbies:

Hobbies influencing work influencing hobbies?

I personally believe there is a byproduct of being engaged in your graduate work and being engaged outside of your graduate work, and that byproduct is being successful in (hopefully) both activities. In one of my cases, one hobby washes the other hobby: I love sports and sports stats. Keeping my head in sports stats and how to compute stats keeps my mind fresh when performing statistical analyses on my projects in grad school. Not all my hobbies are as integrated as this, but it's a nice example to show the ebb and flow of work versus leisure activity.

For those who are more like AA or BB, a hobby isn't something that you force yourself to do. You just end up doing it because you like it. Simply put, hobbies come in a cliche three stages:

  • You come to an activity because it is interesting
  • You continued the activity because you liked doing it
  • You fell in love with the activity because there is more to gain than the process of the activity itself

I think of my use of Twitter as a good example of these three stages: I came for the chat-room-like interactions, stayed for news relevant to my interests, fell in love with the interactions with my tweeps -- which prove to be very informative and helpful over and over again.

I'm sure these three steps aren't how all hobbies are formed. Some hobbies of mine, photography for instance, came out because I was forced into it. It was not an interest of mine until I saw my work being published. Then the vanity and ego and self-esteem set in and live concert photography became a hobby for me.

Do hobbies help grad school performance? I have no idea. But they can definitely supplement and invigorate new ideas, and that is something I see all the time in my lab and in other labs. I can see an argument for flow, and how work flow and leisure flow should be matched to have optimal performance (that alone is its own blog post).

I believe the saying choose a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life is a good way to end this post. It doesn't quite fit the topic, since this is about hobbies and supplementing your work, but it echoes this sentiment: We choose what we are passionate about because it's the easy choice. The hard choice is how much of our passion we give up for everything else we need. But if you can find a way to integrate your passion into everything else, there are no hard choices.

2 thoughts on “Finding and having hobbies during grad school”

  1. dr24hours says:

    I don't know that I have hobbies. I play piano and I run. I love to sit at the piano and play, but learning new pieces is frustrating and difficult. I compose. When people ask me why, I say, "Because otherwise, the music won't stop." I find composing difficult and exhausting. But it's a rare pastime.

    But I don't believe, for an instant, in the phrase you quote at the end. I think it's a way people shame each other, especially in academia. I love my job. And it's work. Every day I accomplish anything is effort and work and trial. But it feeds me, literally and figuratively. And I'm ok with that.

    1. Nick Wan says:

      I can see the argument for shaming: if someone is bitching about their job and I passingly say, "Ah, I love my job -- it's perfect." then yeah, that's a put-down, regardless of if the person overall enjoys the work they produce. But I do believe we end up finding ways to enjoy the work we do. And my take away from work/passion quotes are usually based on recognizing your quality you've put in -- and effort is something to be passionate about. So I never took a quote like that to mean "haha, my job is better than yours" but rather "my contributions are meaningful, and the more I recognize my own efforts then the more I can take pride in all I do."

      As for hobbies, I believe @TheIntronertPhD touched on the idea of differences in defining what qualifies as a hobby. He mentioned if he doesn't commit a large quantity of energy to a potential hobby, then he wouldn't count it. I'm not too sure if you have a similar definition, but from my interactions with you I think your activities of exercise and traveling count as hobbies in my book. You make time for both and you seem to enjoy doing both.

      For me, if you consciously make consistent time in your schedule to do an activity for mostly pleasure outside of work that isn't basic living functions, I would probably count it as a hobby. Still pretty vague for a working definition for a hobby, but it's a bar lower than @TheIntronertPhD's bar (e.g. seemingly becoming a master of a craft).

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