How to do postgrad and have a life

Aug 17, 2020 · 6 min read

By Arantxa Blecher (@arantxa.04)

You’ve probably heard this before: having a hobby while pursuing a postgrad degree is good for your mental health, it looks good on your CV and it gets you active, but all you’re thinking is: “ I don’t have time for this, I need to finish this paper or assignment”. I think we’ve all been there but having a hobby is actually important and can really make your life better and will make you feel more accomplished.

Before I start, let me introduce myself. My name is Arantxa Blecher and I’m currently doing a Masters in Zoology. My project is on ground pangolins and monitoring their endocrinology. But when I’m not working in the lab or postgrad office, you can find me at my dance studio or somewhere outside hiking, doing any kind of sport, or taking photographs. I also used to play clarinet in an orchestra and sometimes still play my clarinet or piano. So instead of telling you why hobbies or having a life outside of postgrad is important, I’ll rather give you some tips on how I’ve managed to do both these things and how you can too.

Tip 1: Choose something that you enjoy!

When you decide to take precious time away from your degree to do other things, it has to be something you enjoy and something that genuinely makes you happy. For me, dancing is an escape from my life for just a short while and after every class I often find myself smiling and I’m more motivated. It also clears the cobwebs in my head and helps me think clearly again.

Tip 2: Choose something with a set time

If you really struggle to tear yourself away from your work and you find that you can’t seem to properly integrate a hobby into your schedule, choose an activity that has a set time on a particular day. This could be a gym class or sports training session that happens at a certain time, a wine club meeting on Tuesday nights, or maybe an art class Thursday afternoon. I find that not having the choice of when to do something and rather being forced to attend a session helps me stick to it. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be doing workouts at home out of my own free will because no one is forcing me and no one would be disappointed if I don’t.

Tip 3: Choose something that does not take too long

Let’s face it, we still want to get that degree so choose an activity that won’t take up too much of your time. Yes, that one full Saturday of sports or and a games night is not bad but an art or cooking class that takes 5 hours every week is not going to help you much. It may be fun, but your degree should still be your main focus.

Tip 4: Time management is key

Yes, you need time management to have a hobby but a hobby can actually also help you manage your time better. For example, I know that I have dance class three times a week for an hour which means I have to get things done before and after those classes. I then think about how much time my tasks will need to be completed and then I plan how to fit them into my day. For example, if you know that you will be spending your whole Saturday out on the sports field, you will realise that you have one less day to finish your work and are forced to work more efficiently on the other days. In the beginning, this is difficult but trust me, if you keep at it you will notice how much more work you actually get done if you know you will be busy and pressed for time. That tiny voice in your head saying “but you still have tomorrow” will leave because no, you don’t still have tomorrow!

Tip 5: Have multiple different hobbies

If you’re like me who loves to do lots of different things and gets bored easily with repeated activities, then do various things. There are 7 days in a week and you can do something different on each of those days. Having many hobbies will also teach you skills that you can eventually even use in your professional life. Dancing and teaching dance have taught me how to speak in front of groups of people, which comes in very handy during conference presentations! Music and being in an orchestra has taught me how to work together with other people, which is something you always have to do in life.

Tip 6: Make it a group thing

Starting something alone is really scary sometimes but if you do it together with a group of friends this makes it much easier and less scary. The same friends can also help motivate you to keep at it and you can motivate them in turn. Even better, having the same hobby as your friends can allow you to spend time with them without feeling guilty about not working because you are doing something productive.

Tip 7: Stick to it and make it a habit

I know starting something new can be scary, messy and it might not always be fun in the beginning. But you have to persevere through the beginning phase because it may turn into something great. If, after a month, a new hobby still does not seem right for then leave it, but don’t give up completely, try something else! I promise, if you find something you really love then you learn to appreciate it and it embellishes your life.

To get you started, here are some hobby suggestions:

· Writing (not your thesis) — things like books, blogs, poetry

· Reading (nothing related to your research)

· Photography — there’s always something to take pictures of

· Any kind of sport

· Art of any kind (painting, scrapbooking, origami, adult colouring books are quite popular currently)

· Bullet journaling

· Cooking and baking (not the lazy kind of just throwing things together)

· Content creating (show off that weird collection of mugs you have)

· Music like playing an instrument, writing songs, becoming a DJ

· Theatre or drama

· Gaming or board games

· Cosplay

· Wine tasting

· Designing and making clothes

· Gardening

· Join any clubs or start a club with your friends (poetry club, book club, rock climbing club)

To end off here’s a quote you can think about:

“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.” ~Lucille Ball

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