Better Grad Student

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Reading for Fun

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Hopefully not something Fyodor Dostoyevsky...Reading a great book is one of my top ten experiences in life. When you’re fully engaged in a book, it completely draws you in and it almost feels like you’re a part of a movie rather than reading words on a page. A great story allows your mind to escape from the normalcy of everyday life and imagine things of which you’ve never dreamed. Embarking on a literary adventure has many important benefits and I recommend it to almost anyone. But why am I talking about reading books for fun on a blog about how to be a better grad student?

If you’ve read almost any of my previous posts, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of reading as much scientific literature as you can. You can’t possibly expect to succeed in your field if you don’t know what’s been done in the past, or what’s coming up in the near future. Especially in the early days of grad school, the majority of your time will probably be spent reading research articles. However, in addition to being committed to reading scientific literature, I believe you should also be committed to spending some time reading something you really enjoy.

In my experience, reading books that I actually enjoy can have a great impact on my overall happiness and stress. Reading can have an effect on your mind that is much better for you than almost any other ‘relaxing’ activity. I’ll highlight a few of the major benefits that I see in reading for fun.

Focus Graduate school is all about focus. For however many years you spend working towards your degree, you pretty much have a singular focus. However, you can’t be some hyper-focused machine for up to 5 years; your mind can’t take it. You have to allow your brain time to recuperate and in my experience, reading for fun has been a great way to do this. Completely shifting gears away from what you do for 8+ hours a day to something unrelated and enjoyable can help your actual work in the future. I like to think of reading for enjoyment as an active kind of recovery. Similar to how you would cool-down after a vigorous workout, reading for pleasure allows your mind to stretch and relax with something that isn’t so intense. Doing this can make you better prepared and more focused when you get back to work.

Excite Great books can literally transport you to another world where it’s easy to be come lost for hours. For me, well written books have the ability to make me forget that I’m reading. I feel like I’m watching a movie in my head and it’s extremely realistic. Not only is this a heck of a lot of fun to experience, it can also be a great motivator. Knowing that you have an awesome book to read when you get home can be a useful tool to help you get your work done. The time you spend reading for enjoyment will become better if you know that you’ve accomplished something during the day. Reward yourself with reading and you will find your motivation to accomplish.

Relax My personal preference is to read close to bed-time. I’ve found that reading a fun story (i.e. not anything by Fyodor Dostoyevsky) is a good way to relax the mind in preparation for sleep. Reading is an activity that is mentally engaging, however once you start, you will find out very quickly how tired you actually are. There have been several times when I’ve been watching TV or surfing the internet prior to bed and I just don’t feel tired. But as soon as I pick up a book, I start to feel that need to fall asleep. Reading printed text is a non-stimulating activity. Staring at a screen that is shining light into your eyes constantly, however, is very stimulating. Your body interprets light as a signal to wake up and be alert. Doing these activities close to bedtime is a sure fire way to lose sleep and feel less rested. Try picking up a book instead of staring at your computer or phone, and you’ll find that you’re better able to calm your mind and relax. Your body will thank you with a better nights rest.

These are just a few of the reasons why I really enjoy and recommend reading for fun to everyone, especially grad students. It may seem like the last thing you want to do, especially if you’ve read all day. But if you make the effort to pick up something you really enjoy, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll find that you’re better able to focus the next day, you’ll relax more before bed time, and you’ll be excited about entering into that world held within the pages of your book.

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, why not sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

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Written by Taylor M.

March 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm

2 Responses

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  1. FWIW I tend to read close to bed-time as well. The house is quiet and I can read in peace.

    As for the subject matter, I think reading fiction is fine and I’ve read more than my fair share of it but I’ve found as I grow older, I’m attracted to non-fiction more and more. Some of it is science-related (like “Bad Science” or “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes or “How To Lie With Statistics”) but there is plenty of other good non-fiction as well: Freakanomics, Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt, Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Peeling the Onion by Gunther Grass, to name a few.

    Andy Strickland

    March 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    • Subject matter is definitely a personal preference. I enjoy reading many different genres of book and, for me, they all will help me relax. Each book offers a different type of enjoyment for sure. I have to be careful with reading some books that make me think too much otherwise I’m up processing what I’ve just read for a while too. Too each their own, but I would definitely start with something fictional if I was just starting to add reading to my own routine.

      Thanks for the comment Andy!

      Taylor M.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm


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