What adventure could I start with copious amounts of free time?
July 4, 2010 11:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to get 2 years of free time starting october where I'm intentionally stretching out my phd because of some funding. I'm kind of looking for a new life-changing "adventure", something totally different to try. Can you provide some suggestions?

I'm covered by a fellowship for living expenses for the next 2 years so I deferred my dissertation defense until funding runs out. This might be the only time in my life I can try something new for a long period of time and I don't want to waste it.

I'm in my mid-twenties and pretty self-motivated, have a bunch of computer skills (machine learning, data mining, statistics) and could get a software job or do an internet startup but that's not what I want to do right now, as I've done those things before.

I have no obligation/responsibilities except staying in Seattle for occasional meetings. I don't want to move but I want to do something more than just joining a club and reading some books. I'd prefer something that doesn't involve sitting at the computer, and where I can be social and meet lots of people.

I was thinking running for political office? Is it hard to get started, maybe something easy like city councilmember or state senate? I have savings I can use towards this goal if needed. Another option I was thinking is being an apartment manager, where I can learn enough to eventually own property one day. I could also travel for a bit, but I don't want to be doing that for too long.

I would be open to any crazy suggestions, especially if you have done them before and it changed your life!
posted by lpctstr; to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I'm politically active (although in the UK) and I'd suggest this isn't something to get involved in unless you've got a genuine calling or problem to be sorted. And I wouldn't consider engaging in politics as a time limited, two year engagement. Seems more like a lifestyle choice, and I doubt one can accomplish much in just two years.

What I'd do in your situation: travel almost exclusively through the Developing World.

I worked in Africa for many years, and was able to leverage my holiday with employer paid travel to a region. This allowed me to see a great deal more than if I were just working. I took advantage of every opportunity (business trip) that came my way to see more of an area than just the nation's capital or centre of commerce. Not to sound trite, but living and working in the Developing World changed me; I'm much very humbled by the dignity of those living in deprivations we in the Developed World would consider unacceptable as basic standards. And I'm much more appreciative of what we in the Developed World take for granted.

Parts of the Developing World are changing rapidly (as hot money chases basic commodities), and probably won't be recognisable as such in a decades time, maybe less. Now is the time to get there and experience it, if you've got the time, funds and motivation.

Hope this helps!
posted by Mutant at 12:12 AM on July 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

Train for ultramarathons or Ironman triathlons. Become a yoga instructor. Two years doesn't quite seem enough to make it into city/state politics, but I could be totally wrong.
posted by knile at 12:13 AM on July 5, 2010

Sorry, it's early morning, but a couple more ideas...

Make a movie.

It's not clear from your question if you have to be in Seattle all the time, or if you have a little bit of flexibility? Could you clarify for us? Along the lines of Mutant's suggestion, I was thinking you could get involved in home-building either locally or globally (via Habitat for Humanity or similar).
posted by knile at 12:17 AM on July 5, 2010

To my mind this all hinges on how tied down you are in Seattle and how frequent your commitments are. If you could get away for four or six weeks at a time, you could explore so many places. Backpacking, or maybe bike touring. Either of those experiences can change your life if you've never done them. In fact, this situation is the bike touring dream. Money just appears in your account, so you can just keep on biking as long as you want. You could circle the globe in two years if you wanted to.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:23 AM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the fellowship that is covering your living expenses is intended to support you through your PhD, then let's also consider a few activities that could be justified as being at least vaguely in that direction. You probably don't want to be in a position where you are abusing the fellowship.

- Political advocacy for your field*
- Community outreach for your profession, volunteer teaching/tutoring*
- (I second) Making a movie, perhaps related to your research
- Learning a relevant language

* Has the added benefit of building up your network for future political activities in case your interest in politics continues.

You could also consider volunteering opportunities where you are also acquiring a new skill:

- Habitat for Humanity
- Cooking at the homeless shelter
- Firefighting
- Teaching/tutoring underprivileged youth

I have seen a few people defer their defense, then come back a couple years later to find out their dissertation needs serious updating. Do yourself a favor, keep in regular contact with your committee to make sure there are no sour surprises at the end of your two years.
posted by copperbleu at 12:49 AM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For politics, I thought it'd be fun to be an amateur politician, maybe spend 2 years for prep and then running in 2013 after my phd for a relatively easy office (state congressman?).

This seems to go against AskMi culture, but I just don't like traveling for long periods of time, as I spent a lot of effort to finally find somewhere I enjoy living. I will have meetings once week or two.

All the other ideas so far are great and I would have never thought of a marathon, movie-marking, or home-building.
posted by lpctstr; at 12:57 AM on July 5, 2010

Make yourself a "job based learning" course, in which you work a couple of different jobs you wouldn't ordinarily have thought of, in order to gain knowledge and skills that will be useful in the future.

For example, if you'd like to start your own business, go and work an entry-level sales job for a while, or work in a shop, and use the opportunity to learn everything you can about the business.

If you want to be a politician, you could go and get a job where you'll learn more about the life experience of the people you'd be representing.

Take advantage of the fact that you don't need to worry about the level of pay, and sock away a lot of money towards a house deposit while you're at it.

Alternatively, go and do some epic piece of research (purely out of interest) that involves interviewing a lot of people about their experience with who-knows-what.
posted by emilyw at 1:38 AM on July 5, 2010

Mutant's hit one nail. I spent 10 months in Guyana and it changed me for life, I hope in a good way.

Do stuff that prepares you for the rest of your life:

Volunteer: you'll learn a sense of service, vital people skills and get your eyes opened
Learn to cook: you'll eat cheaply and healthily for life, and impress people
Hit the gym and (under qualified supervision, with a proper plan) really, really go for it. You have the chance to focus on fitness now in a way that you may never have again. Build the exercise habit so you're unhappy if you've not worked out. Get marathon fit and learn what it's like to run for hours (amazing). Learn to lift weights. Proper, heavy free weights that push you mentally as well as physically.

Between volunteering, cookery school and the gym / track, you'll meet all sorts of people, build mental and physical strength and resilience, and perhaps spot some good you can keep on doing for the rest of your life.
posted by dowcrag at 5:06 AM on July 5, 2010

Okay, dude, city council and state senate are not "relatively easy offices." Even in small cities or rural areas city council races and statehouse races can easily require $30,000 of personal funding. It will be considerably more competitive in a city like Seattle, and you would be running against people who've been there 30, 40, 50 years, who have huge networks to leverage and have been involved in local politics and activism for a long time. Many city councilpeople (and virtually all state legislators) have lower-level political experience first.

I'm not sure why this irritates me so much, but the idea that you can just up and decide to be a state congressperson BECAUSE YOU'RE BORED is so incredibly ignorant of how state politics works that it makes me feel like your level of knowledge of local politics is not remotely where it would need to be to have a chance. Do you even have issues you care about? Do you even know what the current hot topics in the statehouse are? Are you aware the statehouse is in Olympia, not Seattle?

I started by running for school board, in a smaller, less-competitive city than Seattle (about 1/6 the size). It was an 8-month process and it was EXHAUSTING. And, yes, complicated.

Also, the statehouse is partisan (and while Seattle's city council appears to be non-partisan, that doesn't necessarily mean anything); you would almost certainly need the backing of a party. You get likely voter lists, walking maps, mailing lists, etc., from the party offices, even in non-partisan races. If you have up until this point done no service to the local party and shown no interest in local politics, the major parties are unlikely to be interested in backing you. It doesn't have to be machine politics and they'll provide resources to multiple candidates in the primary season, but the parties do want to see THEIR guy elected, and of course human beings are just more likely to help someone they know and who's been helpful to them. Do you have personal relationships with party officials and elected officials in your party? That would help. But your sudden decision to run because you're bored, with no burning issues that are driving you, seems quixotic and unlikely to enthuse a party.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:15 AM on July 5, 2010 [13 favorites]

When I went on an extended break, I decided that I was unhappy with my previous work experiences (all corporate, office-type stuff) and I decided I wanted to experience different forms of "work". So I gave myself a bunch of alien experiences: went on a semi-holy pilgrimage, worked on farms, and now am teaching for a year, with a few new ideas for the future.

Think about your true weaknesses, then find experiences that challenge you and make you better. Hyper-driven, smart, and successful people often, through no fault of their own, miss out on a certain amount of learning to overcome adversity.

In the Seattle area I'm sure there are many places that would appreciate a volunteer. To learn the value of hard labor, work at a WWOOF farm or something like Habitat. To develop compassion, volunteer at a caregiving organization. To learn how to teach, sign up to teach a community class in an area of interest, or volunteer as a tutor somewhere. To develop people skills work the morning shift at a coffee shop, then volunteer for a political campaign. If you're shy, busk and go on a lot of dates.

Oh, and if you would like to own property, it would behoove you to become extremely handy. Learn how fix everything.
posted by acidic at 5:26 AM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I will say fairly frankly that from your post and your Ask history I believe you suffer from a significant amount of economic first-world privilege and con-committal Dunning-Kruger related socio-political assumption... itis. As Mutant says far more politely than I, stepping down from your computer-enabled, fully-funded Ivory Tower realm would teach you two things: what the real world is like, and the true meaning of dignity. I suggest volunteering your time with organisations that will put you to work helping those who do not have your privileges. Start small by doing day assignments, and if you find a project that seems worthwhile, sign up for an on-site engagement for six months or a year. I'm sure your coordinator will work with you on managing meeting schedules if you're doing something worthwhile.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:52 AM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tied to Seattle? In that case cold water surf bum + see if you can get to know any of the local indigenous communities?
posted by singingfish at 6:16 AM on July 5, 2010

You're near Puget Sound, which reputedly is one of the coolest areas for scuba diving in the world. I haven't been there myself but I have spoken to other scuba divers who have, and it's one of my bucket list dive destinations. Learn to scuba dive, meet wolf eels and octopus! This site has a lot of cool information.

That said, I agree with some of the others above who have suggested pushing outside of your comfort zone. You've been granted an amazing opportunity; take advantage of it to push your horizons.
posted by bettafish at 6:33 AM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am unaware of fellowships that would look kindly on a doctoral candidate blowing off school for two years to do something else. Also, I note that you've deferred your defense - is your dissertation already written? Why not defend while your research is fresh? You may be behind the curve when you get around to defending, or your committee members may change. This happened to my office-mate, who found that the new committee member's opinions on his work required an extra six months to address.
posted by catlet at 7:38 AM on July 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

You do not know what the future holds. I think deferring this thing two years just to play is irresponsible. For all you know you may have to rewrite your whole thing.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:00 AM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest scuba as well, so I'll second bettafish's suggestion.

This will change your life. It will be all you think about after you learn. You can't believe what an amazing pasttime this is. And every trip you ever take abroad will be anchored around "Can I dive there?"
posted by fso at 8:55 AM on July 5, 2010

Skip running for office unless you really have a passion for it, and really have a passion for a particular issue or two. I have a friend here in SF who spent more than a year knocking on doors, going to meetings, gathering support, signatures, etc. for a seat on the local Democratic Central Committee. It's unbelievably time-consuming, and should not be undertaken if you think it will be "fun" or "easy"; it is neither.
posted by rtha at 9:22 AM on July 5, 2010

If you're interested in local politics, you might start out by volunteering your time for someone else's state senate race.

My first job, at sixteen, was as the summer intern at a state senate campaign. We worked out of the basement of the county GOP (I was crazy; apologies to everyone), which was a converted mortuary. The chute where we received our pamphlets and mailers had, once upon a time, been used for coffins.

But we had some good folks working with us. A guy who'd worked for Phil Gramm (Texas), a daughter of a prominent Staten Island politician who was working her way through law school writing speeches, a woman from Ohio who was a genius at fundraising. And our candidate was extremely connected, and likable. We lost.

Before that, I had volunteered for city council campaigns, and I continued to do so afterwards. I later worked on a few county legislature campaigns. Only one of the guys I ever worked for ever won, and that was because he went door to door and talked to every. single. voter. He worked so hard and learned so much about the issues that nobody could think of any reason not to vote for him. He sucked at fundraising -- or at least, he didn't do much of it. And he couldn't afford to hire an intern. But last I heard, he was an elder statesman of sorts in that particular political arena.

I stopped campaigning after I realized that guys like the one above are very rare.

Anyway, just because I became disenchanted doesn't mean you have to. I think it's great that you're interested in getting involved in local politics. If you want to run in the future, I suggest you start out by offering your services to the local party. Go to a few meetings. Get to know people. It's definitely the sort of thing that can be fun, time-consuming, and an excellent civics lesson.
posted by brina at 10:53 AM on July 5, 2010

I tried to think about this but it's too unstructured. Here's my attempt at a classification.

1. Academic career investment
Continue research, write papers, teach classes, attend conferences. The "responsible" option. If you want to be a prof you kind of have to do this, frankly. Not sure what your long-term goals are though. (Also: finish your dissertation)

2. Political career investment
As others have said -- getting involved with political organizations with the goal of eventually making a run at political office. I think it's worth framing this as investment in an alternative career (politics) rather than a hobby.

3. Alternative career investment
Is there something else you want to do with your life? e.g. become a real estate owner? This is a good time to explore it.

4. Volunteer work
Habitat for humanity, WWOOFing, overseas development work, local community outreach, political organizations (see #2)

5. Practical skills investment:
Cooking, home repair, bike/auto mechanic skill

6. Creative skills investment:
Musical instrument, painting, writing, photography, drama, dance

7. Physical skills investment:
Yoga, martial arts, swimming, running, sports, general fitness

8. Leisure activities:
Scuba diving, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, bike touring, backpacking/leisure travel, books, movies, video games

Honestly, I think #1 should remain your priority until you've got the thing written and ready to defend, and you could take up two or three of these as hobbies to fill the time. Which ones you pick depend on your goal. If you want to change your life, pick something outside of your comfort zone.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:51 AM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just want to second PercussivePaul's emphasis that if you have any interest at all in staying in academia you want to focus most of your energy on those things that will either build your CV or networking. I'm finishing my PhD and did a test run on the job market this past year. We are competing not just against other folks finishing their PhDs, but also against the folks who finished last year and didn't get jobs, and folks who just finished their first post-doc but didn't land a tenure-track job so now they're applying for a second post-doc, folks who already have a tenure-track job but are facing budget cuts, etc.

Every publication, every course taught, every mentoring opportunity taken (could you focus on mentoring undergrads with your free time?), puts you above someone who didn't have the luxury you apparently have of a no-strings-attached fellowship (I'd love to know how you got one of those).

If I had more freetime in grad school, I would have spent even more time than I did in outreach activities in the local public schools. The number of kids who are brilliant, but whose parents have no money for the awesome activities other kids get, is huge. The programs I worked with offered summer science daycamp, museum trips, hands on laboratory time, and a mentor who got to know and care about the kids, all for free to deserving local middle schoolers. It was amazing and life-changing for me as a grad student, and the kids seemed pretty happy about it, too.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:15 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

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