Dissertation Hobbies

During graduate school and dissertation writing I knitted something around 15 baby sweaters, 6 adult sweaters, 5 scarves, a dozen hats, 4 shrugs, at least 30 woolen slippers, and a captain underpants doll and a goldbug doll (from Richard Scarry). I also baked dozens of loaves of bread, grew vegetables, and went for a walk almost every single day. And I stitched 16 samplers. How and/or why, for pete’s sake, did I do all this?

I did it because I needed to remind myself that I was a person who could finish things. A dissertation takes a long time to write. It’s easy to get in a bag about how it will never be finished. And/or how *I* will never be able to finish it. Or whatever. So I decided that it was really important for me to start and finish as many concrete things as I could. I am a person who finishes things that I start, unless I screw up, in which case I unravel and start over again. I had to unravel my dissertation at least once. It also helped me to create space away from my academic work so that I could maintain perspective. No sense in pretending like I could actually read/research/write 20 hours a day. I can’t. Few people that I know can do it, and if they can, they can’t do it for long and stay healthy. I had lots of routines and lots of habits that created space for productivity–both scholarly and craft.

So this is to say that I don’t think you need to give up on your hobbies to finish a Ph.D. (or the book that comes after, or the second book after that). In fact, I doubt I would have finished my dissertation had it not been for all of those stitches. If you don’t already have something you can finish by next week, maybe it’s time to find a new hobby.


About aprilmerleaux

I am an Assistant Professor of History at Florida International University. My research and teaching focuses on the 20th century United States in international context. My book, Sugar and Civilization: American Empire and the Cultural Politics of Sweetness was published by UNC Press in 2015.
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