Read! (something not related to your thesis)

Reading is one of my favourite ways to relax. Anytime. Anywhere. Snuggled up with a novel on a rainy day, deciphering poetry and discussing with friends, or brushing up on local history and culture while travelling. I remember the feeling of joy after completing my master’s and picking up a book that was not related to my thesis. I was going to get to read again… for fun! Looking back, I’m sorry that I didn’t make more time for reading during my program and this time around, I have made a promise to myself to keep reading even if it’s just a little bit here and there.

Here are my top three tips for graduate students on finding the time to read something different.

Indulge in a warm-up read.

Mornings are my favourite time in the lab. I arrive early, grab a coffee, put on some music, and sit down to organize my day. Before diving into heavy, technical papers, I like to start with what I call a warm-up read. Warm-up reads are short, light on jargon, have nice figures, and discuss the big picture – think Nature or Science papers. I like to get inspiration for my warm-up reading list from table of contents email alerts or by looking through the reference lists of articles that I have found useful or enjoyed. Warm-up reads are perfect when you want to take a step back from your research, but not too far back. You can pick something generally related to your field, which will lessen any guilt about working on something else. After starting your day with something fun you will feel like you have already accomplished something and your brain will feel ready and motivated to take on more detailed and challenging tasks.

Help yourself.

I absolutely love self-help books and I encourage everyone to give this genre a shot. I have amassed a small library of books on technical writing, research methods, and graduate school and they are full of ideas on how to improve as a student, scientist, and individual. I wish that I had discovered this treasure trove of reference material earlier. Some of my favourites are The Craft of Research, A PhD is not enough!, and PhD – an uncommon guide to research, writing, and PhD life. Many self-help and reference books do not have to be read linearly, you can pick and choose what sections you are interested in and treat chapters like mini-modules. This means that the time commitment for these books is relatively low. I like to borrow new books from the library to see if they are something I will use before purchasing my own copy. Reading resource books is a great way to learn something new or different, while still gaining knowledge that you can apply to your thesis or professional life.

Carry a novel with you.

Keeping a novel in your backpack is a great way to capitalize on surprise reading opportunities. Instead of playing with your phone or wasting time on social media, use your time riding transit or waiting in line at student services to read something fun. I always have a fiction book on the go, even if it takes me months to get through. And because you are tied up somewhere away from work anyway, there is no guilt for spending time indulging in reading for pleasure.

Reading exercises the creative parts of my brain. It keeps me happy and makes me a better person and scientist. And if you still need another reason to pick up a book, remember that good writers are also good readers. The more you read, the better your writing will become – and good writing is essential for successfully completing graduate school.

Reading list

Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., Williams, J. M., Bizup, J., and Fitzgerald, W. T. (2016) The craft of research, fourth edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 316 pp.

Feibelman, P. J. (2011) A PhD is not enough! A guide to survival in science. New York: Basic Books, 144 pp.

Hayton, J. (2015) PhD – an uncommon guide to research, writing, and PhD life. USA: James Hayton PhD, 209 pp.

© SF Jones, 2017