Or in Sean Carroll's words, is it true that "you are better off if your hobbies are nothing like your work"?

Carroll, Sean. "How To Get Tenure at a Major Research University: Cosmic Variance." Cosmic Variance. N.p., 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 09 Oct. 2014.

This question applies for both cases of tenure and cases of applying for academic positions.

  • +1 for the reference to the post. I think it should be put on the FAQ of this website, as it covers a lot of grounds succinctly.
    – StasK
    Oct 9 '14 at 14:41

I suspect Sean Carroll is emphasizing this more than most people would, thanks to his tenure denial. It's not always important - plenty of serious bloggers have received tenure, and I know of one mathematician who published a novel before successfully getting tenure at a serious research university. However, Carroll's right about the risks: it will hurt your chances if people spend too much time comparing what you did accomplish to what they imagine you might have accomplished if you had focused more. If your hobbies could be viewed as taking time away from research, then it gives anyone who doesn't want you to get tenure an excellent opportunity to try to derail your case.

So basically, if your tenure case could be viewed as marginal or you might have enemies in the department (or among your letter writers), then you should worry about this. Otherwise, I wouldn't let it dictate your life, but I guess it depends on your tolerance for risk. One common-sense approach is not to go around emphasizing to colleagues how much time you are spending on hobbies.

  • 4
    always gives sound advice, and there's nothing really left to say :). There's a lot of subtle chest-thumping in departments about who's more busy, or sleeps less, and so on. As long as you're able to demonstrate that you're doing well on the usual metrics for tenure (research, teaching, service etc), then no one will really care about what other things you do.
    – Suresh
    May 3 '12 at 5:51
  • 10
    I don't care the cost, I'm not going to let someone else (except my wife and kids) dictate how I use my free time. I am going to use my time how I choose. Isn't that why someone pursues tenure, anyway? Having said that, as AM states, I must acknowledge risks associated with spending free time on things that will not help me get tenure. And I am not going to advertise to others how I spend my free time (within reason).
    – Steve P
    May 3 '12 at 13:25
  • What about children and TV watching?
    – Jase
    Dec 16 '12 at 4:11

Work-life balance is important. The years until you get tenure are very stress-filled. You need something to balance out work -- whether that's your family or whether it's doing some underwater basket weaving.

That being said, you also do not want to give the impression that you are slouching off or not anything than fully dedicated to your work.

So at least until you get tenure, I would recommend having a hobby in order to maintain your sanity but not talking about it at work and keeping a low social-network profile.

At my previous job, I was an avid woodworker with an entire woodshop in my basement. It helped keep my head on and provided a social sphere entirely separate from school.


It definitely depends on the one who reads your CV. Those who don't care about hobbies will simply scroll this lines about hobbies. Those who care will decide based on their own opinion.

Also it is nice when it will be possible to do your hobbies at the University you apply to. E.g. "sailing" in the middle of continent would look stupid, but same "sailing" in some seaside city can make sense and add another reason why you would like to work there.

  • 2
    I can't really follow your answer.
    – StrongBad
    May 10 '15 at 22:29
  • What is unclear for you?
    – TeleOne
    May 25 '15 at 14:02
  • I think you misinterpreted the question as pertaining to job seekers as opposed to tenure track faculty. The tenure review in America is possibly an even more peculiar process than the application, which is already vastly different from most job interviews. This advice doesn't seem to apply to the tenure review.
    – Tim
    May 25 '15 at 18:46
  • Tim, sorry for my misunderstanding, i did not realize that it is USA only. Tenure track positions exist not only in USA and I meant European way. You are right about peculiarities of both application and review processes. But in the end all the decisions are made by humans, with their own thoughts. It was already mentioned about the work-life balance, I just added some words about what the life can be about.
    – TeleOne
    May 26 '15 at 14:21

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