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According to Sean Carroll, a famous cosmologist and tenured professor,

Don’t be too well known outside the field. I hate to say this, but the evidence is there: if you have too high of a public profile, people look at you suspiciously. Actual quote: “I’m glad we didn’t hire Dr. X; he spends too much time in the New York Times and not enough time in the lab.” And that’s the point — it’s not that people are jealous that you are popular, it’s that they are suspicious you care about publicity more than you do about research. Remember the Overriding Principle.

According to an opinion piece by Manil Suri published in the New York Times, in science it is also not appropriate to talk about hobbies. Manil Suri is a famous scholar, his description of the situation in academia is worrying, and gives the impression that behavior is constrained and under close scrutiny. Being too expressive of personal identity can be viewed as running counter to scientific neutrality. In competitive venues, where complete immersion in one’s field might be the promoted ideal, the mention of an extracurricular pursuit can even be seized upon as a lack of commitment. I remember a young mathematician at a prestigious research institute sharing his love for piano playing after hearing I wrote fiction. “Don’t tell anyone in my department I own a piano,” he requested in the next breath. This is a shock to me because I perceived the STEM field as most openminded.

Am I hurting my chances by answering honestly about hobbies and extracurricular and social engagement activities? I work in a STEM field.

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    Note that answers on this site may (or may not) be biased. Firstly, people here tend to be very open-minded (and totally in favor of having hobbies). Secondly, and more importantly, many people here are easily identified (have their real name here and links to their institution) - they may choose not to answer when their institution "disallows" hobbies.
    – Udank
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 9:53
  • @Udank these two professors are first who openly talk about this.
    – user94263
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 10:18
  • I do not want to say that nobody talks about this. Luckily, there are some. However, it's completely understandable if someone does not want to reveal the negative aspects of their institution to protect themselves - thus answers here may be skewed.
    – Udank
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 10:50
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    (Moreover, people who are not "allowed" to have hobbies outside of work are probably not here as Ac. St. Exch. is also a kind of hobby.)
    – Udank
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 10:54
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    @Stefan A hobby is something like coin collecting, cycling, rock climbing, or model trains. I would think that being in the media is a professional activity. So I'm confused by your quote. Honestly, you may not want to get a job in a department that objects to what you like doing.
    – Thomas
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 23:34

3 Answers 3

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There is a time and a place for everything. When evaluating your application to determine if you’re going to be one of the half dozen or so people who might get on the short list, your hobbies aren’t going to rate very high in the decision-making process, unless they suggest that they’re going to pull you away from your work too much.

But I’d also rather not work with a potential colleague who is so focused on their careers that they give up being someone you want to work with. Having hobbies and interests that have nothing to do with your daily job make you a better person, and it’s something you can talk about during a phone or in-person interview.

In the specific case you’re asked, then that means it’s something they decided they do want to know about and you should answer candidly.

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    in most of the applications, they gave as pre-screening questionnaires. Two questions are about hobbies and interestest not related to academia. Do you suggest not answer to this questions?
    – user94263
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 8:52
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    I cannot imagine that people which are asking for hobbies discriminate because people with hobbies. However, avoid mentioning hobbies which could be perceived as "silly" or "childish" even if they aren't, like playing Pokémon.
    – Udank
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 9:34
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    It’s not the hobbies—just the amount of commitment to them.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 9:36
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    +1. Likely a mistake to describe in detail how piano (or whatever) is all consuming and interferes with your work and life, etc. But fine to describe how it relieves stress and sometimes bring insight to your (mathematics, ...).
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 10:54
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    @StellaBiderman, you would probably enjoy the place where I live. Anonymity prevents me from revealing it, however. But you'd never get any work done if you were here permanently. Somewhere on the East Coast of US. Actually, I think I can clap, at least.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 12:28
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To address the question in the title (in line with other answers) I would say that if your Publications section is significantly longer than Hobbies and Interests, chances are nobody will read the latter (I admit I was never on any hiring committee, but I honestly cannot imagine any mathematician I know caring for hobbies in your resume or holding them against you in any situations). This of course must be field-, country-, and position-dependent, and I would only dare to comment that of the maths students I know, those overtly pursuing time consuming hobbies (piano or acting, for example) were often the first to drop off or in any case didn't apply for the grad school - but this is a matter of statistics, not attitude of my faculty.

That being said, I'd like to leave here a link to Matthias Kreck's cello videos. Apart from being a celebrated mathematician he apparently does have time for other activities. Admittedly, he already has tenure, but I will also mention that once in MRI Oberwolfach I attended an impromptu concert by junior topologists - played on instruments that are there for the guests to use. Clearly the ability to play music is not frowned upon among mathematicians (as @Buffy and @Stella noticed), on the contrary - such an interesting hobby can help you to become identifiable and remembered. It will make an interesting topic of conversation and will probably make the whole academia experience more pleasant. However, at the end of the day it's your research that matters.

EDIT: I think that all the answers, including mine, framed themselves around the playing piano or (at extreme) playing Pokemon, save for @Thomas comment to the question itself. On the high public profile problem, I would add that there is a great difference between occasional science popularisation in radio or press (I have a colleague who is greatly respected precisely for that), between being a regular pundit in a newspaper, between writing a column on not-science-related topics, and then between commenting current issues on national TV daily. If you mention on your resume you have a couple of articles in New York Times on top of a solid scientific publication record, that shows you are good with pen. If you mention that in your spare time you run a mayoral campaign in your town and speak at the rallies, that is a different thing altogether - and that may raise eyebrows. Disregarding the possible differences in political opinions, this would be mainly because you need to be truly exceptional to pursue two careers, scientific and public, at the same time. It can be done, but it is not very common.

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    I think the point here is, that if you are at a level comparable above videos, it's worthwhile putting the hobby in the CV. The ability stands on its own. As for dropouts, my own "statistics" is just the opposite: those who pursued hobbies to high level were the ones who ended up with an academic position. Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 7:54
  • but the people you describe is in Europe, Germany. In Germany, we allow people that go back to industry to return to academia very easily. The position described in those two articles is in US. Haveing hobbies in europe is considered norm, nothing unusual and worth to ask?
    – user94263
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 10:22
  • I think that at the same meeting in Oberwolfach there was a participant from US (I may be confused about the venue but not his affiliation) who juggled and was keen to teach juggling to anyone who wanted - and rightly proud to be able to. Group yoga recently became popular during some number theory conferences held all over the world. I think that having hobbies is preferable, as is having interesting talking points with people you try to connect with. I regret there is no-one at my faculty to teach juggling, but having such a hobby should in the end neither help nor hinder your application.
    – lemon314
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 22:47
  • Dear @lemon314 why do you think for academians is not common to pursue the public career?
    – SSimon
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 7:53
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    @SSimon, because I don't see great many scientists doing that. It must differ between fields, communities, and career stages. FWIW I feel that at least in mathematics there are very few notable exceptions from restricting oneself just to the academia, I am also far less surprised seeing a politically active, say, PhD student in history than in mathematics, but this is just my experience and mileage may vary. I do however stand by the conviction that the link concerns a truly exceptional man:)
    – lemon314
    Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 1:33
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It can definitely go both ways and will depend on the culture of the place.

People can mention that, with such an intensely run hobby, there is no worry you have a job if you fail academically (this is paraphrased from a true incident), or the other way round, it shows that you are a well-rounded human and it can open doors where otherwise you would be just one out of many nondescript gray mass of people.

You will have to find out what your target institution/group values more: single-mindedness or broad-mindedness.

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  • what is in general opinion on the STEM? are they more single or braod minded?
    – user94263
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 10:17
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    There is no general opinion in my experience. I've seen both, and quite taken to extremes. Perhaps a tendency of less practical, more theoretical topics to be in favour of broad-mindedness, and more practical ones to favour single-mindedness (perhaps because of the sheer amount of work required to get things done whereas progress in theoretical topics cannot be forced by increasing the amount of work invested). But this is not a general rule, and you'll always find exceptions. Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 10:24
  • @CaptainEmacs Isnt Sean Caroll theoretician?
    – SSimon
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 7:54
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    @SSimon "Perhaps a tendency of ... to be in favour"/"...and you'll always find exceptions" - narrow-mindedness (in a neutral sense) is not a prerogative of one or the other. I know so many extremely talented people, most of which have an intense hobby, but some don't. I think the only safe statement here is: Anyone who tries to make a general rule here, is wrong... Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 8:51
  • @CaptainEmacs I agree with you
    – SSimon
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 10:11

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