Formal Time Commitment to Hobby + Grad School = ?
July 20, 2008 10:51 AM   Subscribe

I am about to begin my 2nd year as a Ph.D student in a hybrid comp-sci/multimedia/engineering program. I took up soaring this summer for the sake of my mental health (and to fulfill a long-time dream), and I'm loving it. Should I join an organization that will make flying more economical, but will require a firm time commitment?

I currently rent a glider from a commercial operation, which affords me scheduling flexibility but is expensive. I am considering joining a club which is much less financially demanding, but requires volunteer service to maintain the airfield/aircraft and for operations. The time commitment is more or less identical (I should be flying once a week to keep my skills up), but the club requires monthly volunteer work (which, because of the distance, amounts to a full day of non-school time).

Part of me says "join the club, because you'll be obligated to fly frequently and spend time around pleasant, wise people who are not in academia. This will keep you sane. There's still six full days in the week to get everything else finished. Besides, you're a poor grad student; any money you can save is good money."

Part of me says "To be a good grad student, you should be ready to work around the clock on projects if need be, even weekends." However, last year has taught me that following this train of thought leads to a burnt out, grumpy me who does things like learning to fly in the interests of mental health.

I'm interested in opinions from both grad students and aviators. Is it realistic to think that as I progress through my Ph.D, if I work diligently during the week, I can take a full day of "me time" one weekend day a week (or even, let's be realistic, every other weekend)?
posted by Alterscape to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do it. You need that time. When I was in my program, I budgeted 5 full hours a week to screw around. Sometimes I borrowed from one week to add to another, sometimes I went full over, and sometimes I didn't take it at all. I think, though, if I had an obligation to goof off with others at a certain time every week, I would have kept on schedule more with that time and with my work.

If some dire emergency comes along, you can always cancel out on the soaring-- but make sure you hold yourself to a strict "it really has to be dire" policy. It is a reward, a necessity and relaxation all rolled up into one. Also, very importantly, I think with this time off, you will also find your work more productive. After a certain amount of grinding away, your quality of work just goes downhill anyway, and you end up redoing whatever it was you were chugging away at.

My impression of those doc students who had another thing going on (church, clubs, being a dj) and really made time for it, got the respect of other students and advisors alike. People just knew not to cut into that time unless totally necessary. And I found those people got a lot of offers for collaboration. It was sort of a reverse psychology-- these people must be totally worth working with because they are busy and they maintain their schedule no matter what.
posted by oflinkey at 11:08 AM on July 20, 2008

I, too, am about to begin my second year as a PhD student, with my research spanning engineering and computer science.

It seems to me that if you're working six days a week, and you can work an occasional seventh day at crunch time though you don't do it routinely, then you're already working more than most people in industry, and getting paid less while you're at it.

Is such a high workload standard among PhD students at your institution? At my institution, a great many academics have families, and are only in the office five days a week, and rarely later than six PM.
posted by Mike1024 at 11:10 AM on July 20, 2008

if, being realistic, it's every other weekend, is it really less expensive with the club?

i've only flown once in a glider, but do have a phd. in my opinion, looking back from many years later, you're worrying too much. this doesn't matter either way. you're not in control of your life to the degree you think. a whole multitude of random, unpredictable events, significant only in retrospect, will force critical choices you won't even notice. so do whatever you like.

maybe this doesn't help make the decision, but at least don't worry about whatever you decide afterwards.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 11:13 AM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am a PhD student as well and I find that I need to have a few hobbies, especially physical ones for my physical and mental health. I find that when I don't indulge in my hobbies, my work suffers.

Everybody will have different needs but I think that time away from work is necessary in order to allow your mind to relax- this makes the time you do spend working much more productive.

My fellow students who work constantly don't seem to be any better off than the ones who work less, and they are invariably the ones who seem stressed out and unhappy.

I also think that taking time off for hobbies is a way to train yourself to getting your work done in less time- after all, you can't expect to spend the rest of your life working 7 days a week. Better to force yourself to get used to being as productive in less time now.

My Saturdays are totally free of work obligations- I enjoy them fully and without reservations and it is wonderful. I also make sure to schedule plenty of time during the week to exercise and spend time conversing with friends- often many good ideas come out of these discussions that wouldn't have occurred if I had been working!

My suggestion is to give yourself a day where you can totally ignore your work without stress and focus on something else that gives you pleasure and peace. And don't forget to spend time exercising and reading for pleasure.

Good luck with your PhD!
posted by Caius Marcius at 11:20 AM on July 20, 2008

I suggest seeing if the people in the club seem like the type of folks you'd want to hang out with, and if so, joining the club. I'm a CS grad student and I joined the hang-gliding club; I think I would've never gotten into hang-gliding otherwise and in any case, it would be a whole lot less fun.

If you feel you can't spend a day a week on hobbies, there's something wrong in the way you're going through grad school. This is supposed to be a good part of your life, not something you just barely get through. Work hard, but don't let it totally consume your existence.
posted by bsdfish at 11:32 AM on July 20, 2008

Another 2nd year PhD student voting for you to join the club. I ran into a similar problem halfway through my first year when I joined up with some girls who were creating a local roller derby league. Practice alone is at least 5 to 6 hours a week, with another 2 hours of required skating time plus daily workouts on your own to stay in shape. At first it was a little overwhelming, and everyone in my program thought I was crazy, but now I wouldn't give it up for the world.

There are days where I have to run home right from a meeting at the end of a 10 hour day, change and immediately go practice for another 2 or 3 hours. Those days suck. But at the end of each of those days I am so glad that I made time for practice. The routine used to be: crazy long day, get home, think about working out, crash and sit on the couch for the rest of the night or sit in front of the computer and do more work. Now I stay physically active and have time to socialize, two things I would always put in the back burner for my school stuff. Although I am even busier than I would be otherwise, I am also way happier.

Also, having a support system outside of grad school is essential. I really enjoy the company of everyone in my program, but there's only so much grad-school-related talk you can participate in before you just end up more stressed out. Having friends that are out in the "real world" can keep everything in perspective.
posted by taraza at 4:10 PM on July 20, 2008

You don't have to make a big long-term commitment to the flying club, do you? You could do it for three months and see how you view your work progress and sanity then. My guess is that the 12 days off won't harm your work very much, and will improve your sanity a lot.
posted by grouse at 5:08 PM on July 20, 2008

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