As a scientist, a lot of our time is spent in the lab. Many 12 hour days add up, and sometimes you end up working 60-80 hour weeks, way more than the average 9-to-5/40 hours a week job.
Sometimes it can feel draining, and honestly, it can also feel hopeless and lonely. When you are spending the majority of your 20s doing a job/getting a degree that’s one of the most intensive academic experiences, it can leave you feeling like you aren’t enough. There’s always others that are blowing it out of the water – there are always experiments that aren’t going to work – there is always something. Sometimes it felt like I was just getting through life and just waiting for life to start, post-grad school.
I quickly realized that isn’t a way to live – because while you may have your degree and *hopefully* a position, if you aren’t happy with yourself or your life, things aren’t going to magically change once you defend or walk at graduation.
This is why I believe you should do what you want and explore options during grad school. Have fun, don’t limit yourself (within reason), and just enjoy any little time off you might get. I decided to put together this 30 before 30 – 30 things to do as a scientist. I realize there is a huge range of ages of people in graduate school, and this all still applies to anyone and everyone (the name was just too catchy, 30 before 30 ;P )
- Visit national parks in your area – It’s been on my list to visit the national parks in Utah as well as other parks on the west coast. Nature is beautiful and so freeing – a great way to reset your mind is to unplug from your phone and emails and just be in nature.
- Go camping – camping isn’t for everyone, but its a great learning experience! I went camping for the first time in grad school with lab mates and it was so fun! We got to be in the wilderness in some national parks, share stories around the campfire, sleep in tents, and go on hikes! I definitely recommend the experience!
- Go to a Conference – I highly recommend finding an international conference, because why not – but any opportunity to go to a conference is a great one, where you can network with others in your field and also learn about new science and topics !
- Join an intramural sports team – join a for-fun league at your university or community center – it’s an easy way to get active and some exercise in, and also make some friends! You never know the connections you will make, could lead to a job, collaboration, etc.
- Mentor a younger student – This can take many forms – mentoring students in the lab, giving workshops to undergraduates about resumes/CVs/posters/etc – to volunteering at events. It’s a really eye opening experience to try to explain your research very simply sometimes, because you get so wrapped up into the nitty gritty details. It really helps you learn to evaluate your thinking and science communication skills.
- Go on a vacation somewhere by yourself – When I went to a conference in Portugal, I decided afterwards I would extend my trip by a week and explore France, something I really have wanted to do for some time. So I booked a ticket from Lisbon to Nice, France, and spent 4 days there on my own exploring, before I met up with a friend and went to Paris! It was rather freeing – to be able to do whatever you want when you want, and I treated myself to a nice expensive dinner. It was so relaxing and a great learning experience!
- Learn a new language! I started teaching myself Arabic after visiting Jordan with my boyfriend, and also brushed up on my Spanish skills and kinda sorta taught myself Portuguese when I visited Portugal in same conference I mentioned above – my Spanish came in handy!
- Read a book – an actual book! Something I wish I did more during grad school was read more. I found myself reading lots of papers to keep up with the literature but never found time to read for pleasure! The few times I did I really enjoyed it! I have a lot of books that I started to read, and then put down, never to finish!
- Explore other career options – set up informational interviews with people in different careers, and see what’s available – you aren’t just limited to bench research! And you don’t lose anything by talking to someone and learning!
- Watch the sunrise – get up early one day (or find a day during Daylight savings) and go somewhere you can easily and beautifully see the sunrise. There’s something calming and just beautiful about seeing the sun rise, it can help you recenter yourself!
- If you are dealing with any mental health issues like anxiety, depression, etc., don’t be afraid to seek help. This can come in many different forms – talking to a counselor or therapist, joining a group therapy session, taking part in online message boards, having venting sessions with friends – it all helps!
- Learn to cook! I learned to cook during grad school by participating in the meal delivery services like Blue Apron. It wasn’t take out – they give you all of the ingredients and recipes, and you cook it yourself or with a friend/bf gf whatever! It was a great learning experience and I now have a collection of yummy recipes I can reference and the techniques I learned are amazing! So many amazing new flavors also that are easy to do – spice mixes, etc. It’s helped transform my eating habits. You can also find a cooking class at your closest university or groupon, and make it a social event! Also, cooking is like chemistry in the kitchen – so it’s like you’re doing yummy science experiments.
- Go listen to some live music. There’s something about being in a lounge with a live band, that’s just relaxing after a long week. Live music comes in many different genres and forms, and you can explore new types of music!
- Learn about finance and investing. This is so important. I recently had a tweet go viral as I called out Graduate Programs for not really training us graduate students in investing our money for retirement. It was on the back of my mind all the time, but with all of the stress of research, teaching, etc., I never really had time to. There are tons of online free resources – so take a break from social media and learn!
- Take on a new hobby – Throughout grad school I did a lot of acrylic painting, and it was a nice release. I would put on some jazz music and just paint with a glass of wine by myself. Sometimes I invited some friends over. Recently, in my postdoc, I started a hand knitting project and made a blanket, inspired by a tutorial video I found on facebook. I have since bought more yarn and hope to make more things! It can be a way to shut off your mind after a stressful day at work!
- Go to an Ice bar – this was a really cool experience. I found an ice bar in Boston, and it was so cool! Everything in the bar was made of ice, from the seats, to the bar, to the cups they served the drinks. They also offer the jackets and whatnot, so don’t feel like you need to go buy winter gear especially if you live in a warmer climate.
- Explore a different part of the city you live in! When I lived in LA, I lived on the west side near Santa Monica, and I knew the area pretty well. A lot of times when we got bored of the food options, we would travel east towards downtown, Koreatown, etc. and try new and exciting food options. If you got bored of the options in LA, you either were doing it wrong or you weren’t actually seeking out new things!
- Start a side hustle. As scientists, we are all curious by nature, and there are so many options of things to try and do, especially with the power of social media – anything is possible! Start a blog, work on your science communication, make youtube videos, start a small company doing X to help with X, start a nonprofit – this will not only look good on a resume for future positions, but you might find that you actually love being an entrepreneur – and can make a ton of connections along the way. A little extra cash will also help 😉
- Invest in your BODY. Stay healthy, workout, eat well, and dump the processed crap. I see so many grad students talking about how they’re on a grad student diet of instant ramen noodles and taco bell, and it makes me cringe every time! What we do in our 20s and 30s set us up for our health later in life – so if you love your body, take care of it now, and prevent medical costs later. If you are interested in a workout program and accountability, feel free to shoot me a message via email or on instagram (if you’ve been following you can see I’ve dedicated myself lately to working out regularly!!).
- Work smarter, not harder – This is something I’ve learned in my postdoc. In Grad school, everyone was on the mental grind of – If I don’t work 12 hr days and people don’t see me in the lab all the time, it means I’m not a good grad student. And while that can lead you to be really productive, sometimes it does more bad than good. I think I got my fair share of overworking in grad school that nowadays I just get to burnout so much faster. So I learned to work more efficiently during the day – so I don’t feel guilty relaxing in the evenings! It’s helped a lot of with my work/life balance!
- Stop letting Social Media define you – Yes even us scientists fall into the social media trap. Especially those of us with blogging or scicomm side hustles. Learn to live in the moment and not everything needs to be documented. Enjoy the people you are with at the moment instead of sharing to the people who aren’t there with you.
- Try your best, and be satisfied with that. Something I learned relatively recently from some books I was reading, was, to always try your best – and if things go wrong, you then can’t really blame yourself if you truly tried your best. You just try again! It really helps to get in that mindset. Just work hard and take the failures as opportunities to improve.
- Talk to that professor who’s about to retire in your department/program/university. What insights do they have about science/career/life? You’d be surprised what you can learn, and what connections you can make!
- Don’t sweat the small stuff, and make time for people who truly care about you. In grad school, I fell into the wrong crowd at first because I just wanted to have other people to go out with. That crowd quickly became toxic, and made life hell for a bit. I was blowing off people who genuinely cared for me to hang out with these people who couldn’t care less. So appreciate those you have around you, and it’s ok to drop the negative people from your life, especially if it makes life simpler!
- Buy something expensive for yourself/buy yourself an expensive meal – If you have some extra cash laying around (which grad student does, lol), splurge on yourself every now and then. Treat yourself. Enjoy it and don’t feel guilty!
- Go on a hike/climb a mountain/go scuba diving – organize a trip with fellow scientists and friends, and you’d be amazed at how much nature will amaze you – and the little science things here and there that you will notice!!
- Apply for your dream job. Even if you think you have no chance, if you even just satisfy one of the requirements, go for it. You never know. Employers usually don’t expect someone to be the perfect match!
- Rent a Mansion/house Air bnb with some friends and go on a trip somewhere. It usually is cheaper/just as much as a hotel room, so why not splurge on the high life and enjoy a pool/hot tub while on a trip?! The price tag might seem high but when you split it between 7-10 people, it can be affordable!
- Take part in a triathlon/marathon/5k/10k/spartan race/tough mudder/etc. – and get some of your labmates/coworkers to join you! You can all train towards the common goal and make memories that will last a life time!
- Throw a rockin’ 30th (or whatever age you are!) birthday party! Celebrate yourself!!
What do you think about this list?
Have you accomplished any of these or are there any that you have on your list?? Let me know in the comments below!
This is a brilliantly wriiten post and absolutely inspiring. I am only 22, with a masters and going bonkers everyday thinking about my PhD. Reading this has just given me so much inspiration that I should really take the time out and do the things I love, achieve atleast a couple of these before I turn 25 lol!
PS: The solo trip is one of the best things to do! and it is such an amazing learning experience as well!
I am not a lab scientist, but maybe a language scientist – like a linguist, so the tip about learning a language resonated very much with me! I loved the tips, about camping, mentoring a student, reading books, going to conferences… I hope you are fine, dear Andrea, I have been busy with the phd 🙂 You know how it is! I hope you have a lovely weekend!