When I first joined my current lab, I had an intense student-mentor. This student worked seven days a week, came into work at 5:00 AM and had nine publications on his CV. In addition to teaching technical skills at the bench, he was adamant about passing on his philosophy, “all that matters of your time here is that you get publications, especially first author. Publications are your only currency as a scientist.”
Doe-eyed, impressionable, first-year, grad-student me absorbed this mantra; I became somewhat reclusive. I worked at the bench nonstop, I begrudgingly attended mandatory seminars (usually while commenting that they were a waste of time), and I dismissed any voluntary activities outside of the lab. Fortunately, after two years of working like this, I had an epiphany. His advice was not for me.
When I solely worked for the sake of publishing, a few things happened to me that I disliked:
About six months ago, I decided to pop my lab bubble and pick up projects away from the bench. I mentor, I participate in STEM education outreach, I blog, and I will be guest lecturing for a graduate-level course this Friday. Coincidentally, these side gigs do not interfere with my productivity at the bench. As a result, my anxiety is fading and I am rediscovering why I love working in STEM.
Thinking of getting your own side hustle? Here are a few STEM hobbies you can have away from the bench:
1. Teaching – This might seem like an obvious one, but not all scientists have the opportunity to TA. Adjuncting and guest lecturing are great opportunities to hone your teaching skills.
Tips to get going: Ask professors if they’d like to host a guest lecturer, or offer to help out with office hours. Also, search for adjunct positions at local 4 year and/or community colleges.
2. Mentoring – Again, this might seem like a “duh!” suggestion. But keep in mind, mentoring is more than training at the bench. Mentoring includes helping scientists write, present, network, make figures, code, and much more!
Tips to get going: This is an easy one, offer to help. Many junior scientists would appreciate a helping hand but feel too shy or too guilty to ask for your time.
3. STEM education outreach – Education outreach differs from teaching because you are going to the communities in need. STEM lacks racial and socio-economical diversity. By performing STEM outreach, you assist in creating a level playing field for aspiring scientists. Examples of STEM outreach include teaching girls to code, holding panel discussions at disadvantaged high schools, and performing experiments with local science clubs.
Tips to get going: Your institution might already have STEM outreach programs, if not, reach out to local schools. Shoot an email to biology teachers, guidance counselors, and career centers. Most schools are thrilled to have graduate students visit.
4. Art/graphic design – It's remarkable how many scientists are also talented artists. Use your creativity to make unique figures/schematics, volunteer to design a logo for a conference, or offer to design the cover when your paper gets accepted.
Tips to get going: Practice! Display your artwork on social media, offer your services to an event organizer, or arrange a science-art competition.
5. Writing – Many of my science friends dread the writing stage (I love it, but maybe I’m an anomaly). Besides writing your thesis and manuscripts, there are various outlets for scientists to write!
Tips to get going: Volunteer to write for your institution’s newsletter, start a blog, offer to tutor students struggling with writing, or guest blog for Bolded Science!
6. Advocacy – Have a cause that you are passionate for? Odds are there is an advocacy group for that. Advocacy groups are constantly looking for volunteers to canvas, communicate their message, and participate in local events.
Tips to get going: Examples of advocacy groups include: 500 Women Scientists, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Scientist Action and Advocacy Network.
7. Organize an event – Coordinating a seminar, conference, or educational event is an excellent way to exercise your organization, communication, and management skills. Not to mention, it is a networking landmine!
Tips to get going: Don’t go it alone. Contact someone who already runs an event and offer your services. Another option is to invite speakers to participate in seminars at your institution.
8. Start an organization – So maybe you’ve done number seven, and you’re looking for something bigger! Start an organization that is needed in your field/community/institution.
Tips to get going: Find something you are passionate about and get a feel for coworkers and friends who would be interested. Book clubs, outreach clubs, journal seminars, and science policy societies are just a few ideas.
9. Take courses outside of STEM – Law classes, business classes, coding classes, medical history classes, marketing classes, writing classes! Science is interdisciplinary, you can widen your knowledge and pump up your resume by pursuing your non-scientific curiosities.
Tips to get going: Search your institution's course catalog and see if you can get a fee waiver through your program. Not at a University? Most colleges hold flexible night and online classes. Don’t need the college credit? Check out: TheGreatCourses.com
Having a side hustle is great for your mental health and self-worth, but it also looks great on your CV! Extra curriculars showcase your skills and interests that can make you stand out to a potential employer. Getting out of your lab shows initiative and a desire to be a part of your scientific community, a pretty awesome characteristic!