In Grad School? Maintain Sanity with a Hobby Like Ballroom Dancing

Hi, my name is Elise and I’m now in my 4th year as a graduate student in psychology. Grad school keeps me plenty busy, and one of my primary ways that I deal with it is to have a hobby. When entering grad school, just about every other person reminds you that you should have a hobby, as if it’s something we might forget! It is so important to maintaining your sanity and balance in your life! And, I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve found it vitally important to have one main hobby that keeps me busy and happy outside of grad school.

For me, that hobby is competitive ballroom dancing. When I have more free time, I dabble in some other things such as pottery, indoor rock climbing, yoga, weight lifting, but I honestly only have time to seriously devote to a single main hobby.

Grad school at times seems like an endless checklist that never gets shorter. There’s always more296747958_8c15e91e3f_o writing to do, more studies to design and run, more papers to read, more assignments to grade, more meetings to attend, more presentations to prepare, and so on and so forth. When an urgent deadline is looming (and sometimes it feels like that’s always the case!) or if I simply get absorbed in a new research project that’s exciting or especially puzzling, I might be in the lab until 10 pm or later. This is unusual for me, as I treat grad school as a 9-to-5 (or more like 10-to-6…) job.

Other grad students have later hours or specific time courses to teach in wet lab experiments that keep them on campus all hours of the night. And, because there’s always so much to do, it can be tempting to just do research all day and night and forget to socialize or to have other things going in your life.

But, contrary to popular TV shows depicting research as a fairly straightforward endeavor, we scientists and researchers often run into obstacles and frustrations. And when research is the only thing you have going for you, when you repeatedly run into the possibility of failure, it can be downright professionally, personally, and emotionally draining. If my self-esteem were to be entirely contingent or dependent on graduate school success then (as a social psychology theory might predict), I might think pretty lowly of myself. Thus, we need other things in our lives to buffer against such a possibility.

Elise Bui
Elise Bui (CLAS ’09) – Photo Credit: Courtney Frenger

Ballroom dancing gives me opportunities to excel at something that is physical, artistic, social, athletic, challenging, and fun. Unfortunately, ballroom dancing is also an expensive hobby, but that’s a subject for another time. It has made me some of my closest friends who fortunately have almost no desire to talk shop about psychology research (though it can be difficult at times to make them shut up about dancing!).

Dancing sometimes gives me glimpses of that wonderful sense of “flow” that is described by social psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – that sense of a loss of time and self-awareness that we occasionally feel when we are so absorbed in an enjoyable but challenging activity. Whatever gives you that sense, I urge you to pursue it, whether you’re currently a student, working full-time, and/or simply still figuring out your life.

If none of the hobbies I’ve mentioned to you sound remotely appealing, I’d like to list off some of the diverse endeavors of my fellow grad student friends: birding, home brewing, political and environmental activism, bible study, board gaming, running, Crossfit, intramural sports, Ultimate frisbee, doing stand-up comedy, being a foodie, cooking, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, cake decorating, aerial arts, baking, bowling, running, performing magic, hiking, camping, attending concerts, drawing, playing music, acro yoga, slam poetry, singing in a choir, blogging, and so on.

Clearly, the possibilities are endless!

Visit Elise’s blog “Ballroom On My Mind” for more information about Elise and her passion for dancing!


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