DonSwansonZellner4-9-13Andrea Zellner is a PhD student in the Ed Psych/Ed Tech Program at Michigan State University and a co-host of the GradHacker podcast. You can follow her on twitter at @AndreaZellner.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across this essay by Amy Boesky in The Kenyon Review that reflected on her time ghostwriting for the Sweet Valley High series. What caught my attention was the fact that she wrote for the series throughout her time as a doctoral student (okay, I admit it-I  actually started reading because I spent countless hours in my formative years with the Wakefield twins). Boesky’s description of her work made me think about the ways what we do outside of our grad school work can be a real benefit to the development of our grad school selves. Here at Gradhacker, we’ve blogged quite a bit on the themes of finding balance, making time for activities beyond grad school, being mindful, and reducing stress.  This is because in grad school we spend a good deal of time on developing the aspects of our academic selves-presumably the non-academic aspects of us don’t quite need the same attention. But this is a false dichotomy, and for many graduate students, grad school is a time in life when lots of aspects of our lives are changing: people often find their partners at this time of life, they may have children, and, of course, we are all preparing for the next step in our careers.

What we do when we aren’t doing grad school is as important as developing our academic selves.  Because I’m a complete technophile, I’ve found that my “outside of school” activities generally have smartphone apps associated with them. In the Gradhacker spirit, here are a few:

  • Running: This year I have made a commitment to running. After making it through the first few hurdles in my grad program, I came to realize that when I schedule my runs, I am also more likely to be more productive in my writing and other work. I have been a Runkeeper fan for years, and recent updates have me even more impressed. Runkeeper will track a number of activities (even snowshoeing! Who knew?) as well as allow me to schedule my workouts. The social aspects helps motivate me when I see my fellow grad students who have been better at getting out than I have.
  • Healthy Eating: I blogged about the Lose It! app in my New Year’s post of 2012, and I still use it. Even though I no longer am actively trying to lose weight, I still like to track my nutrients and what I am eating (it helps with those late night writer’s-block-induced Cadbury Egg binges). My family has jumped on board and the social aspects of this app allows me to see if those in my circle are logging, if they are staying within their calories, and if they exercised. We have used the app to lose almost sixty pounds between the four of us and it has been a great way to cheer one another on even though we live in different states. There are lots of weight loss/food tracking apps out there, so don’t settle for one you don’t like.
  • Geocaching: Since I have a pair of very active five-year-old boys at home, I’ve had to expand my repertoire of outdoor activities (one can only play “Red Light/Green Light” and Tag so many times). My boys love anything that has to do with treasure, maps, and being outside, so geocaching seemed like a potentially good hobby. According to,  “GEOCACHING is a free real-world outdoor treasure hunt. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS and can then share their experiences online.” We recently took up this hobby and used the smartphone app. It was a huge hit, and, as an added bonus,  the treasures kept them happy long enough for me to return a few student emails once we were home.

In addition to these more fun activities, I’ve been leading a secret life as singer and musician whenever I get the chance. I also try to keep fresh in my field by consulting for schools, businesses and nonprofits when the opportunities arise. While I get busy and it is hard to stay on top of everything at times, overall I have found that sneaking some of these “other” activities into my day has had made me more productive in grad school as well as making me and my family happier.

What do you do when you aren’t doing grad school? How has it helped you? Leave us some inspiration in the comments by clicking here!



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