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Pursuing passion projects: One way to make the most out of postdoc training

In the December 2019 newsletter, we shared why and how we can pursue our passions. Here, we introduce one way of pursing your passion without burning you out – through passion projects.

Passion projects refer to projects that you pursue, typically in your spare time, to enrich your life. There are many reasons to start a passion project during postdoctoral training. You can utilize passion projects to learn or enhance certain skills (see 7 essential skills that recruiters are looking for in PhDs), apply your strengths and/or talents (for example, your current research project might not require you to dance, but you are a great dancer), or to establish new skills and experiences as you set out on a new or different career path (see story about Postdoc Brewing Company). Ultimately, passion projects help to keep you motivated. If you didn’t have an opportunity to pursue passion projects while in graduate school, now it’s a great time to start. Here is some advice as you explore your passion.

  • Passion projects need to be time-bound.

Research projects tend to take a long time. As postdocs, you shouldn’t take on a passion project as a second job. Once you identify something you’re interested in, these short-term projects need to be much less time demanding, with a defined start and end date. Besides, you will experience gratification by accomplishing your goal sooner. For example, if you are interested in strengthening your Python coding skills, enrolling in an online course or following a YouTube channel with a structured course can be time-bound options.

  • Passion projects encourage collaboration with people outside your area of expertise.

It’s easy to spend all your time with your lab mates during work hours and your family or friends during spare time. Try starting a passion project with people outside of your normal circle, such as colleagues from a different lab or outside of academia entirely. Consider meeting some fellow postdocs from your postdoc association (reach out to UW Postdoc Association) – this is a wonderfully supportive community, and you have more in common than you think!

  • Passion projects expand your network.

Networking is very important in the job search process. In support of your long term success, it is helpful to start networking early. Passion projects provide opportunities for you to connect with people outside of your normal network. Stay in touch with the people you meet in the process, and reach out for an informational interview if you are interested in learning more about their different career paths and life decisions. Finally, pursue your passion projects intentionally to help you transition throughout your career. Passion projects may not be related to your current research interests, but you are sure to learn something new. Importantly, keep a record of challenges you faced and the solutions that supported your success. You will find countless opportunities to apply these skills and lived-experiences later in your career and life. Dr. Dan Moseson, a member of Graduate Career Consortium, shared his insights about pursuing passion projects on Inside Higher Ed. This might inspire you to initiate or collaborate on a passion project soon, “Being an academic made me a better DJ, and being a DJ showed me a fluid, improvisational side of myself that seems to be the source of my best professional work.”

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