“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”: PhD students and the importance of hobbies

by Teresa Corbett

“If you are losing your leisure, look out! — It may be you are losing your soul.” ― Virginia Woolf

We recently had a very enjoyable research morning where staff and students found out about all the great work being done by PhD students in the school. It seems we are a fairly accomplished bunch.. and a seemingly very busy bunch at that!

Amanda Sesker presents her poster at the School of Psychology Research Day on June 11th

Amanda Sesker presents her poster at the School of Psychology Research Day on June 11th

During the years of a PhD, students are challenged both intellectually and emotionally. Sometimes our work is rewarding in and of itself, with precious moments of insight feeding a nerdy love and enthusiasm for learning. But being a PhD student can be tough, with research highlighting that doctoral students often report experiencing many negative emotions such stress and exhaustion (International Postgraduate Student Mirror 2006).

Often its what we do when (/if) we leave the office that helps us to cope with the stress. Hobbies can function as a buffer against stress, emotional exhaustion, and burnout. It is not surprising that enjoyable leisure activities are associated with psychosocial and physical well-being (Pressman et al 2009). Burt and Atkinson (2012) pointed out that creativity is associated with health. Likewise, Reynolds (2010) found that art undertaken as a hobby engendered feelings of personal growth, mastery, confidence and social connectedness. Exercising, engaging in social activities, having hobbies, and spending time outdoors have all been shown to benefit both psychological and biological wellbeing (Pressman et al 2009).

Hobbies help us by promoting positive feelings. Taking the time to enjoy an activity outside of the office allows PhD students to feel refreshed and better cope with stress. So I asked my fellow students to tell me about their coping strategies and what pastimes they enjoy to keep them sane during the PhD. Below are the responses I received.

My name is Teresa Mulhern and I'm in year 2 of the PhD in Applied Behaviour Analysis and I distract myself from relational frame theory by crocheting.

My name is Teresa Mulhern and I’m in year 2 of the PhD in Applied Behaviour Analysis and I distract myself from relational frame theory by crocheting.

My name is Jenny Groarke, and I'm a singaholic. No, I'm in 3rd year of my PhD studying the benefits of music listening. I of course listen to lots of music, but I spend about 10-15 hours a week performing, or practicing music.  In the first year of my PhD I applied for a new University initiative, the Choral Scholarship. This involves rehearsing 4 hours a week, every week of both semesters, and performing regular church services. At the same time I formed a harmony group The BlueBirds, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5al4pTI1Uk)  and founded Sing-Bang delivering music workshops applying the findings of my PhD research.

My name is Jenny Groarke, and I’m a singaholic. No, I’m in 3rd year of my PhD studying the benefits of music listening. I of course listen to lots of music, but I spend about 10-15 hours a week performing, or practicing music.
In the first year of my PhD I applied for a new University initiative, the Choral Scholarship. This involves rehearsing 4 hours a week, every week of both semesters, and performing regular church services. At the same time I formed a harmony group The BlueBirds, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5al4pTI1Uk) and founded Sing-Bang delivering music workshops applying the findings of my PhD research.

My name is Amanda Nally. I am in the PhD in ABA. My hobby & ultimate de-stressor is kickboxing. Very therapeutic!

My name is Amanda Nally. I am in the PhD in ABA. My hobby & ultimate de-stressor is kickboxing. Very therapeutic!

My name is Aoife Kervick and I'm in the 4th year of my PhD, and I love running and knitting (though not at the same time..!). Both are so relaxing, and the boost from finishing a small knitting project (when working on a long term PhD!), or running outside in the sun following a long day at the office, is just wonderful.

My name is Aoife Kervick and I’m in the 4th year of my PhD, and I love running and knitting (though not at the same time..!). Both are so relaxing, and the boost from finishing a small knitting project (when working on a long term PhD!), or running outside in the sun following a long day at the office, is just wonderful.

I'm Corinna and I'm in the 2nd year of my PhD in the Perception, Cognition & Action program. As much as I like reading about Relational Frame Theory (sure who doesn't?!), I also like to read about feminist topics and classic novels. I enjoy going to the gym and practicing yoga to destress, stay fit and healthy, and to take care of my mind and body. I also LOVE to bake and to feed people! Occasionally I organise tea parties so we PhD students can hang out together outside of work and have lots of tea, chats and delicious treats.

I’m Corinna and I’m in the 2nd year of my PhD in the Perception, Cognition & Action program. As much as I like reading about Relational Frame Theory (sure who doesn’t?!), I also like to read about feminist topics and classic novels. I enjoy going to the gym and practicing yoga to destress, stay fit and healthy, and to take care of my mind and body. I also LOVE to bake and to feed people! Occasionally I organise tea parties so we PhD students can hang out together outside of work and have lots of tea, chats and delicious treats.

Hi I’m Chris. My work focuses on the mechanisms of successful critical thinking and how mindfulness relates to these. I’ve also been active in student representation with various organisations. Outside work stuff I like to travel, listen to and play music, read books and comics, tv binges and getting out for a run or game of football. Here I am taking part in a sing-song with some friends in Serbia.

Hi I’m Chris. My work focuses on the mechanisms of successful critical thinking and how mindfulness relates to these. I’ve also been active in student representation with various organisations. Outside work stuff I like to travel, listen to and play music, read books and comics, tv binges and getting out for a run or game of football. Here I am taking part in a sing-song with some friends in Serbia.

My name is Páraic Ó Súilleabháin and I’m in 3rd year of a PhD in Psychology with a topic located somewhere at the interactions of personality, biology, evolutionary and health psychologies! While I like to distract myself with learning nerdy solo fingerstyle guitar arrangements or bashing away on the drums, I love hanging out doing any activity with my dog Rory!

My name is Páraic Ó Súilleabháin and I’m in 3rd year of a PhD in Psychology with a topic located somewhere at the interactions of personality, biology, evolutionary and health psychologies! While I like to distract myself with learning nerdy solo fingerstyle guitar arrangements or bashing away on the drums, I love hanging out doing any activity with my dog Rory!

 I’m Donna and I’m in the  2nd year of my PhD in Cognitive Genomics.  I love having a chunk of time each week dedicated to some kind of arty project, usually oil painting. It’s like letting the reins of the PhD go completely and taking  a little holiday in a different part of my brain, where statistical analysis problems can’t butt in.

I’m Donna and I’m in the 2nd year of my PhD in Cognitive Genomics. I love having a chunk of time each week dedicated to some kind of arty project, usually oil painting. It’s like letting the reins of the PhD go completely and taking a little holiday in a different part of my brain, where statistical analysis problems can’t butt in.

My name is Owen, I’m a final year PhD candidate. In my spare time, I love taking photos. Whether it’s beautiful scenery, or whatever I happen to see while walking down the road, looking at life through a different lens is a great way to take a break.

My name is Owen, I’m a final year PhD candidate. In my spare time, I love taking photos. Whether it’s beautiful scenery, or whatever I happen to see while walking down the road, looking at life through a different lens is a great way to take a break.

And me? Well I’m in my third year of the Structured PhD in Psychology and Health… and I love yoga, running and art!

And me? Well I’m  in my third year of the Structured PhD in Psychology and Health… and in my spare time I love to do some yoga, running and art… Oh and I guess writing blogs too!

Of course, we’re in a lucky position where we actually seem to get along as friends as well as just being colleagues. Let’s not forget the tag rugby or days spent on colouring in the tea room, adventure races, dog training and the dress-up tea parties!

Of course, we’re in a lucky position where we actually seem to get along as friends as well as being colleagues. Let’s not forget the tag rugby or days spent on colouring in the tea room, adventure races, dog training and the dress-up tea parties!

So there you go… the secret to our success at work is what we do when we’re not working…! Thank you to everyone who contributed to this blog. And I’ll leave you with a thought from Jenny Groarke who responded to my call for help saying “Although it’s stretched my time – and absolutely has taken up hours that could have been spent writing my thesis, I do think that somehow it’s improved the quality of my work. I think the work is better when I also feel fulfilled by my hobbies and passions. The best work is produced by people who are enjoying it, or just enjoying themselves even if only outside work, and not necessarily by those who are trying the hardest.”

Want to read more on the science bits?

Burt, E. L., & Atkinson, J. (2012). The relationship between quilting and wellbeing. Journal of Public Health, 34(1), 54-59.

Jacobsson, G., & Gillström, P. (2006). International postgraduate students mirror: Catalonia, Finland, Ireland and Sweden. Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket).

Reynolds, F. (2010). ‘Colour and communion’: Exploring the influences of visual art-making as a leisure activity on older women’s subjective well-being. Journal of Aging Studies, 24(2), 135-143.)

Pressman, S. D., Matthews, K. A., Cohen, S., Martire, L. M., Scheier, M., Baum, A., & Schulz, R. (2009). Association of enjoyable leisure activities with psychological and physical well-being. Psychosomatic medicine, 71(7), 725.

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