Scientists reveal the creative side-projects that keep them sane

It’s hard to think about lab problems when you’re dangling upside-down by your ankles.

26 July 2019

Bec Crew

Callie A. Oldfield/@CallieOldfield

Scientists have taken to Twitter to share their creative endeavours – the hobbies they use to de-stress as they navigate the high-pressure routine of research publishing.

A call-out from Shannon Hall, a neuroscience PhD student at Dalhousie University, Canada, has unearthed varied passions, from art and crafts to baking and sword-making.

The enthusiastic responses point to the importance of such side-projects to early career researchers and PhD students subject to rejection and failure as they seek grants, tenure and publication.

While creative projects may stem from the urgent need to break free from the parameters of work, they are also of proven importance to maintaining the right mindset to excel at work.

In 2014, a study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that creative activities were positively associated with experiences that helped people recover from the rigours of the working week, such as mastery, control and relaxation.

Personal creative projects also boosted performance‐related outcomes including job creativity and “extra‐role behaviours” – tasks that go beyond a person’s formal job requirements, the research team from San Francisco State University, the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio and Illinois State University found.

A follow-up study in 2017 by San Francisco State University researchers in the Creativity Research Journal found that the “non-work creative activity” people engage in during their personal time can influence whether they return to work feeling reenergized and rested.

Here’s Frank Santoriello, a microbiologist and PhD candidate at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus:

And Callie A. Oldfield, a grad student in plant biology at the University of Georgia:

From Sophie G. Elschner, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Konstanz in Germany, whose research investigates pupillometry, or eye-tracking:

Others tweeted about their love of baking:


and sword-making:

In response to the dozens of tweets from scientists chiming in about their creative pursuits, Hall wrote: “You are all a true example that we are all so much more than just our lab work.”

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