Living the life 2: socials, sports and salvation

Most people enjoy a drink with friends, or taking part in some of their favourite exercise. And PhD students are no different (at least in that respect…). In fact, the flexibility of most PhD programs allows us to enjoy these simple pleasures more than your average Joe (or Jill).

At the undergraduate level, British Universities cut short their Wednesday teaching to allow students to compete in a whole host of different sports. And there is nothing to stop PhD students getting involved. Many indeed do (myself included). Such a break is conducive to clearing the mind and relieving stress.

Our PhD team gearing up for the first dodgeball game. Garish clothes entirely optional!
Our PhD team gearing up for the first dodgeball game. Garish clothes entirely optional!

It doesn’t have to be competitive sport either. A lot of universities also offer the chance to get involved with friendly sports, suitable for all. Bristol University in particular runs a very successful intramural series with undergrads, PhDs, post-docs and staff all known to take part. We’ve entertained teams in football, hockey, netball, cricket, frisbee and dodgeball. The teams are mixed gender as well so it really is ‘open to everybody’.

On top of this, it’s not uncommon for people to get together and organise teams in other sports that aren’t offered – be it touch rugby, tough mudder or even zombie evasions runs!

Post-zombie-run apocalypse party!
Post-zombie-run apocalypse party!

Such endeavours truly are a nod in the direction of a PhD lifestyle. Getting together with friends and forgetting about the woes in the lab or errors in MATLAB whilst working up a little sweat is good for both body and mind.

Or in those cases when you’re not quite feeling that energetic, swap your racket for a Rioja, your trainers for a tequila, your pitch for a pint or your mouth-guard for a mojito*. Kicking back in your favourite bar, with your favourite drink and friends may not be as good for the body, but it sure does help the mind.

Toasting a drink at the annual Earth Sciences Ball. Good times all round.
Toasting a drink at the annual Earth Sciences Ball. Good times all round.

I don’t mean going out and getting obliterated every night, but enjoying a drink now and then can help. For example, most of the best networking at conferences is done after-hours pint-in-hand, when it’s easier to approach that eminent professor and conversation can flow. The same can be said within university. Our weekly departmental happy-hour (or three) allows PhD students, post-docs and staff to all mix in a relaxed environment, learn about each others work and ignite potential collaborations.

And when the time calls for it, we can party hard too! Successful vivas, annual balls (the rare occasion earth scientists get suited and booted), Christmas parties and spring ceilidhs. We have it all. With the added bonus of not really having to come into work the day after if we don’t want to.

So when things start getting too much and supervisors are breathing down your neck, we could probably all benefit from taking a quick step back, removing ourselves from that environment and forgetting our troubles. Stop pounding your head 24-7 and pound the running track instead, or the head of a friend over a drink, chatting about nonsense (would you rather have arms as long as toes, or toes as long as arms could be a good starting point…?). I think we’ll find ourselves appreciating the break when back in work the day after.

This is why sports and socials can be the salvation to a long and arduous PhD journey.

Try to prevent having this sort of journey. Picture credit: Jorge Cham
Try to prevent having this sort of journey.
Picture credit: Jorge Cham

*Between a Rock obviously promotes responsible drinking.

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About James Hickey

I'm a geophysical volcanologist trying to better understand volcanic unrest.

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