You probably know professors who come to lab fresh and refreshed from yoga or a pickup game of basketball. If these profs seem happier and more successful, it's no accident. Experts agree that having passionate interests in life improves your effectiveness and well-being, and sometimes those interests even pay dividends for grad students' research.
Shutting the textbooks isn't always easy for Florida State University grad student Ashley Chason, but when she does, you can find her pirouetting across the dance floor.
A devoted ballerina since age 11, Chason teaches kids ages 4 to 18 part time at a Tallahassee ballet academy. The gig keeps her on her toes: She teaches as many as three classes each week on top of her coursework and research responsibilities.
"I'm a big fan of to-do lists," says Chason, who often drafts lists months in advance to head off potential schedule conflicts.
Jon Gorman, a clinical psychology student at Loyola College in Baltimore, shares that penchant for planning. He's a competitive fencer who spends his free time at the Baltimore Fencing Center practicing, competing and coaching youth.
"It's really physically challenging," he says. "So it's definitely an outlet for me. Fencing is my yoga."
The trick to balancing it all is to take something that you like to do, make your schedule fit around it, and then abide by that schedule, Gorman says.
He doesn't let academics interfere with his hobby: If he's not finished with his daily research goals when it comes time for fencing practice, too bad for his research.
"It just encourages me to work harder next time," he says.
Some people unwind at the end of the day with a long, hot bath. Joanne Marie Kalisz knits hats and helps rescue pooches from negligent owners.
The University of Vermont experimental psychology student runs an art and apparel business and volunteers with a Basenji dog rescue program — pastimes that help her relax and take her mind off academic life.
"Grad school's so crazy, I have to do something else," she says. "My hobbies relieve a lot of the stress and pressure of being a grad student."
Creating fashionable artwork — custom belts, handbags,
T-shirts — and spending time with her own Basenjis and rescued ones stretches her mind, allowing her to be more creative and productive academically, she says.
"If you're stuck on a problem, you can go do some art or walk the dog, and it helps jog my mind," she says. "I get those 'A-ha!' moments."
Likewise, Ronald Gloston Jr., a clinical psychology student at Argosy University, Washington, D.C., relieves his school stress by knocking people down on the football field as a defensive tackle for the Washington Chiefs, a D.C.-based minor league team. Now in his third season with the Chiefs, he has two practices and a game every week, allowing him to intersperse his academics with hard, stress-relieving hits on the field.
"For me, the No. 1 priority is getting my doctorate, but football keeps me well balanced," he says.
Work meets play
Sometimes hobbies come easier as a result of coursework. Gloston and Gorman both say their psychology training gives them insight into their competitors.
"A very big part of fencing is trying to figure out what your opponent is going to do in a given situation," Gorman explains. "If they're losing with the clock running down, you know they might be more aggressive and desperate."
Hobbies can give something back to psychology, too. Through the Chiefs' mentoring program, Gloston interacts with the inner-city youth he hopes to work with when he graduates.
Similarly, Kalisz worked connections she'd made through her artist community to recruit participants for her dissertation research on stereotypes about teenagers. The symbiotic relationship between her hobbies and academic responsibilities convinced her that she's a better student for being an artist, and vice versa. She even finds inspiration for new art projects while reading about psychology.
"I don't think my life would feel complete if I had to give either one of them up," Kalisz says.
By Michael Price