It is really easy, during the course of graduate school, to let a great many things in our lives fall by the wayside. There’s always something to read, a constant stream of emails, projects to plan, and mountains of data to plow through. Oral exams, proposal meetings, all of the writing…most days it piles on until we have to put “EAT LUNCH!!!” on our to-do lists to make sure we don’t pass out from hunger. We spend so much time on being a graduate student that we lose site of the fact that we are people who have needs beyond the next peer reviewed article.

There are lots of places where people have expounded on the importance of sleep and healthy eating for optimal brain function, but there’s more to being healthy than just those. Whole person health requires that we spend some of our time on activities that fulfill some portion of our broader identity than just “grad student.” I specifically mean hobbies, the rejuvenating experiences that remind us of who we are and what we want out of life. Sadly, these are usually the first things to get cut from our overburdened schedules. (I’m only going to mention in passing that there are also horrible people who will say that having hobbies is a “waste of time.” Personally, I think these people are a “waste of space” and won’t give them any more of my time).

I know from experience that I go a special kind of nuts if I go too long without indulging in one of my hobbies. That’s why I endeavor to

A sock in progress
A sock in progress

have a knitting project with me at all times. I can usually manage to squeeze in a row or two to help “take the edge off” during the day.

But, just as we stagnate if we don’t move forward with our research, I had begun to feel stagnant in the rest of my life. Get up, do work, read things, knit some, play with the cat, eat, and sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. And, since I’m a whole person, when I feel stagnant or restricted in one area of my life, it has a ripple effect through the rest.

Kodak Brownie Reflex, circa 1940-1942
Kodak Brownie Reflex, circa 1940-1942

For as long as I can remember I’ve had an interest in and affinity for photography. I had plastic 110mm cameras as a child, bought my first SLR at 17, drove my mother nuts with the amounts of film I went through, and I collect vintage cameras.

Last weekend we had our annual lab retreat, and we went “camping” at a state park a little west of Portland (we stayed in cabins with electricity and heat and had proper meals, which is as close as I’m willing to get to actual camping). I brought along my little camera (Canon PhotoShot Elph 100HS). This has been my primary camera since August 2011, and I’ve done some spectacular photography with it (considering its limitations). At the retreat, I had the opportunity to shoot a few frames with a friend’s Canon SLR and folks, it ignited a fire in me that is still burning. Yesterday I checked out 17 items on digital photography from our local library (libraries are perhaps the greatest FCL resource available, and yet so under sung).

Library Books
Library Books



I feel energized, awake (awake helps), and there’s so much energy it’s surging through to the grad student part of my life. Because that’s the trick about whole person health. You can’t feel great if there’s a part of of your life that isn’t working out. And I know that graduate school (like so many things) requires compromise and sacrifice, but we shouldn’t have to compromise our identities or sacrifice our happiness.

Now all that’s left is to read/watch all of these in the 2-4 weeks I have them on loan…anyone know how to bend time?

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2 thoughts on “Say Cheese – Self Care through our Hobbies

  1. If I had one superpower it’d be to stop time (and I think a lot of grad students agree with that). A couple things came to my mind when reading this. First of all, hobbyists as free-choice learners. You’re so right in that we can’t be asked to set aside part of our identity as a casual reader, knitter, sewer, gardener, etc just because we are also grad students. It’s almost as if we are preaching one thing and practicing another. As FCL researchers we see the value in these experiences and how they not only help our mental stability but also teach us something – be it science related or just something about ourselves that we didn’t recognize before.

    What also came to mind when reading this was Olga’s activity at the retreat. Having to map everything we need to do in the next 100 days left most of us overwhelmed, palms sweaty, heart racing… but when we were debriefing someone mentioned they forgot to put “me time” on their map (and I think many of us agreed). I think “me time” is not necessarily a topic of discussion in grad school – at the university level, advisor level (this statement doesn’t apply to you, Shawn), or student level. And it should be. You and I, Laia, make time for ourselves. As I told you the other day, I really needed to make it to stitch night (knitting group) this week because I needed to be minds off and socialize with non-grad student people. Even when Laia and I are both at stitch night we refrain from grad school talk – most of the time anyway. Work got pushed aside for 3 hours one evening. I’m still here.

    Needless to say I think this was a great post. Inspiring to me and I hope to others.

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