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Finding a Hobby Outside Academia

By: Emma Fingler

When I first began my PhD, I anticipated hiking with my dog in the mornings before I sat down at 9am ready to start the day. On the weekends, I would read fiction, sign up for yoga classes and find local farmers markets to browse. It was an idealistic perspective that was shattered as soon as classes hit their stride at the end of September. Instead of holding on to the few things that would have supported my foray back into academia, they were the first things to go. After a grueling first semester, I realized that I needed a hobby that was the opposite of my work. Something to take me away from screens, reset my mind and allow some distance throughout the week from the all-consuming nature of grad school. Thus, I needed a hobby outside of academia.

Finding a hobby can be a difficult task, and it doesn’t need to be something you’ve done before. I recommend trying a few things to see if they provide a mental health break. During my master’s degree, I began rock climbing with another student in my cohort. Not only did we become good friends, but it allowed me to focus on something completely different from my studies. At other times I’ve learned to needlepoint, re-read my favourite book series (check out your local library), took a fiction writing course, took tennis lessons (courses with the city or school are often extremely discounted for students! I was able to get free courses through my town), tried water aerobics (not my thing but a very memorable morning) and planned fun dates for my partner and me. There are endless options, and you can narrow your search based on a few criteria, including if you want to do it solo, in a pair or group, whether you want to invest money into the hobby, and how far you’re willing to commute (if at all). From here, it’s a quick google search or conversation with a friend to see what inspires you. 

A key part of finding a new hobby outside of academics is not feeling guilty. Until my comprehensive exams, it felt like (and was probably close to accurate) that every waking hour went towards school, to the detriment of my mental health and personal relationships. Having a hobby that is completely separate from your studies will allow your mind to recover and become more productive during the hours you work. We all need space to recover and hobbies – whether with friends or alone – are the perfect way to do this.

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