How having a hobby can help with postgrad life

I know what you are thinking – ‘I don’t have time for a hobby!”. And that might be true, which might be exactly the reason why you will benefit from a hobby. I have a few hobbies and I thought I would share why they help me, why they are especially important if you are a postgrad student and some ideas for low-cost and easy hobbies. I am going to concentrate on my love of reading fiction and running a blog about my reading – which I have been doing throughout my Honours year and I am still continuing even during my Masters!

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Postgrad is stressful

Deadlines, failed experiments, computers that somehow do exactly what you tell them to do and not what you actually want them to do, supervisors, admin, funding…there is no end to the stress that comes with being a postgrad student. Severe stress for long periods of time can make your life feel absolutely miserable. A hobby is something that can provide some relief from all that stress. It gives your mind something to focus on that isn’t all of your academic woes and bring you lots of joy.

It uses different parts of your brain

Academic work requires very specific types of thinking. When you’re wrapped up in solving equations, pipetting (that’s something that biologists do…right?), or coding all week, it can become mentally exhausting. Picking up a soccer ball, a paintbrush or – my personal favourite – a good novel in your off time can activate the other parts of your brain that haven’t gotten much use lately. Your research-academic brain has a chance to switch off and have a rest for once. This might even stimulate some new ideas for your research!

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You can learn new skills that benefit you both inside and outside the lab

These might be tangible skills – like writing for the public and search engine optimization through blogging – or less obvious skills like persistence and discipline from learning how to do something new without having deadlines to motivate you. Having a lot of practice at writing blog posts has helped improve my confidence in writing – which translates into more confidence in my academic writing.

It can turn into a side-hustle

While I think you should have one hobby that is purely for your own personal enjoyment and has nothing to do with your overall productivity, you might be able to monetize your hobby to stretch your tiny postgrad budget a little further. I recently got to enjoy a box-full of free books in exchange for advertising an upcoming book sale because I regularly post pretty pictures of books on Instagram. This has helped me free up a bit of extra cash since I would have purchased many of those books on my own anyway. If you have got a creative or crafty hobby, there may be easy ways for you to make some money off of it.

It gives you a place to succeed and fail in ways not directly linked to your academic progress

This is something that I think is especially important if you’re someone who takes failure and rejection really badly. I don’t handle those things well, but having hobbies where small failures show quite quickly that I’m making progress. For example, if I a blog post of mine isn’t as widely-read as I would have liked, I can look at it and figure out ways to write a better post the next time. All I have lost is the small amount of time I spent working on the post – and it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad blogger. Similarly, if something goes wrong in my academic work, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad scientist. Failure is an important part of the scientific process and every academic career, and hobbies are a way to make failure less intimidating.

It helps you with your time management

This sounds a bit odd, I know. While there are exceptions during really busy periods, but if you have less time to finish something – you’ll finish it in less time. For example, if you have two days to finish an assignment, then it might take you all of those two days to finish it. But if you only have two hours, you’ll get that same assignment done in those two hours. Similarly, if you’re finding something is dragging on, but you’re looking forward to meeting your friends at 7 p.m. for a soccer game, then you’ll get that work done in time so you can join them. Academic culture often requires our entire lives to be wrapped up in our research and having hobbies and activities outside of academia helps you break out of that unhealthy culture.

Some ideas for hobbies

I would like to emphasise that a hobby is a highly personal thing. If your hobby is binge-watching Game of Thrones and being totally immersed in it – that is awesome because it works for you and helps you de-stress. While reading might be my favourite thing to do, you might not enjoy it at all.  I would suggest trying to have at least one, even if it’s something you’re already doing (like cooking, for example). I have put together a list of ideas for you to try if you are looking for a new hobby. These are just suggestions and are generally affordable or doable with items you already own or could purchase very easily. Most universities also have societies or clubs for various hobbies and activities that you can easily join and gain access to equipment and experts

  • Cooking (putting a bit of effort into it instead of just eating 2-minute noodles…which I am guilty of).
  • Photography (if you have a smartphone, it probably already has an excellent camera that you can use)WhatsApp Image 2019-04-23 at 13.27.45(1)
  • Soccer/Rugby/Cricket/Running/ etc. (either sign up for a class or a club to make it social and even more fun)
  • Sketching (all you need is a pen/pencil and some paper)
  • Hiking (there are hundreds of hiking trails around the country!)
  • Journaling/writing
  • Yoga (I started with free, online classes by Yoga With Adriene)
  • Blogging (get started on WordPress for free!)
  • DIY/crafts like sewing, knitting, making cool things with your hands (this will probably require you to borrow equipment from someone)
  • Reading (you can get books for free from your university library or your nearest public library. You can also get cheap books from second-hand book stores).

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I hope this post has inspired you to try out a new hobby! Let me know what your current hobbies are!

It’s that wonderful time of the year…

It is Christmas time. Someone said a PhD student is not hard to shop for – just give them “time, patience, and steady job prospects”. And I like that very much. It is also that time of the year where we write Christmas cards to our family, friends and colleagues. “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year…” In lieu of my last blog here, I am writing a thank you note / Christmas letter to everyone remotely related to my PhD experience, including my future self.

My family

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With my youngest, he better not ask for co-authorship.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Your presence this year has reminded me that this journey is not mine alone, that other people have a stake in it too. I have loved simplifying my thesis in one sentence, literally explaining to a 6 year-old. Studying when you are around has trained me to be disciplined with my time; to focus on doing the meaningful stuff and taking the necessary breaks. Taking a break in the day to cook for us, and taking walks with you has been all the therapy I need. You are an important part of my identity, one that threatened to be consumed wholly by “being a PhD student”.

 

My parents/brothers and sisters (including in-laws)

Thank you for caring about my self-determination, and asking often, “how is school going?”, and “when do you finish?” Yes, as PhD students we often don’t like hearing these questions; so thank you for understanding and accepting the short and simple answers of  “it’s going” and “soon”. I really appreciate your big dreams for me; how you think I will be able to get any job I want as soon as I complete this degree. I am often too tired to discuss the reality, and I would rather have the positive affirmations.  You are a big part of my positive outlook on my future.

My supervisors

Thank you for being reliable, consistent and open about your own challenges and the nature of academia. Seeing you balance your own work and still giving me prompt and constructive feedback on my project is inspiring to me. I hardly have enough time for the PhD — and it is all I do — so I don’t know how you do all you do. I feel confident that in the next year we can build on the positive and productive momentum we have created, in order for me to submit my thesis. I will need what you have always provided in the past, which is your experience, wisdom and knowledge. I have learned so much from you in the past three years that I will keep with me when I become a supervisor too.

My PhD friends and colleagues

Thank you for the laughs and the inside jokes this year. Thank you for all the personal stories you have told me, and for making me comfortable to tell mine. It has been amazing the number of stories we could tell each other over lunch or dinner between intense, isolated work sessions. I was happy to be your springboard for ideas as you were mine. Thanks for nodding enthusiastically as I ranted on and on about my project and giving advice the best way you could J Thank you for reciprocally taking my advice as well, even going as far as calling it “great advice, thank you!” 🙂 We make each other feel and do better.

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Some PhD colleagues and friends at a recent writing retreat.

 

My school and funding body

Thank you for the financial and other support that enables me to dedicate all my time to this PhD. We complain it is not enough but even CEOs of Fortune 500 companies think they deserve more. And those guys get a lot; they categorically don’t deserve more. I digress. Thank you for always lending an ear to the ways in which students could feel more supported, and creating tools to ensure that it happens. Thank you for the analysis software licences, the retreats, the conferences, the journal clubs, the support for extra coursework you name it. Thank you for showing your compassion to starving students on campus – through the food donation drive and feeding schemes for the general student body. And thank you for being full of approachable world-class professors/lecturers who are willing to talk to you about your project and listen to your challenges even though they are not even your supervisors. Thank you to the university at large for the library resources I can access off campus and the librarians who are always online, ready to chat!

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With some PhD colleagues, supervisors, policymakers and funders at a recent conference

 

 

Government and the bodies that be

Thank you for your recognition of research as an essential part of the development of South Africa. Thank you for your subsequent endeavours to support students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Thank you for all efforts to make sure that you meet the demand for higher education in this country given the unique needs of this nation and the lack of resources we contend with. Thank you for any effort to ensure that resources are therefore not wasted but invested in the diverse and brilliant minds of this nation, from kindergarten to tenure. Thank you for any effort (now and/or future) to lend an ear to students and experts on how to positively transform higher education in South Africa to be an empowering space for students, their families and society in general.

The Universe

Thank you for the positive vibez… ha ha.

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Source: Unsplash

 

 

My future self

I have ended this year on a positive note, which is surprising because it has probably been the most challenging of my adult life.  This blog post has been an exercise in zeroing in on the positives all around me.  It is an exercise of self-preservation that is necessary to keep a balanced perspective on things. It’s easy for the brain to latch onto negative things and let those propel us to action or worse: inaction.  In contrast, the positive gifts all around us can provide the leverage to act in positive ways and do what is beneficial for ourselves and others. 2019 will be hard, with the anxiety to finish and to plan the next steps. Use anything positive around you, no matter how small, to cope. And just like that the year will be over and you will be writing a letter to your 2020 self.