And if they should, I assume that these things should go on a resume under something like "Activities and Community Service". I mean I consider being able to sight read music to play at my Church as a significant feat (how many people can do that?) and might sway one person on an admissions committee if he or she enjoys music and understands how hard one must have worked to accomplish this.

Badminton?.... perhaps not so much

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – eykanal
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 3:03

7 Answers 7



These things are by and large irrelevant. Everyone has hobbies, and many of these may be challenging, but the purpose of a graduate school application is to understand your background as a potential scientist.

At best, this will make someone go "Huh, neat, the oboe..."

At worse, it will make someone assume that you're either attempting to pad out a relative lack of accomplishments, or don't really know what you're doing.

  • 4
    You said resume, not an application with a specific prompt. Though I'd tend to focus on leadership or more relevant campus activity over random hobbies.
    – Fomite
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 12:38
  • 16
    In this case you can follow the 2 general rules that almost always apply: follow the instructions given (and ask if they are unclear) and when that leaves you still room to pick and choose: add only things of which you can explain why they are relevant in this specific situation.
    – dimpol
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 13:06
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    It really depends where. In Germany, extracurricular skills (especially cultural and social ones, such as classical music etc.) are considered a plus in many cases. Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 13:53
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    Moreover, since @masque is giving the example of church, it depends even more on where the person lives. In France, saying that you do some music is fine in extracurricular skills, but saying that you do that music specifically in church is a big no-no.
    – Fatalize
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 15:07
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    @Inquisitive If I'm looking at a grad school application, your intellectual achievement should already be obvious. If it's not, playing the organ in church isn't going to save you.
    – Fomite
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 22:04

Should seemingly arbitrary things like “play piano for Church” or “intramural badminton” go on M.S. or PhD applications in sciences/engineering?

As long as you are succinct about it, and none of your hobbies take large amounts of time, accomplishments outside your primary field can be a positive addition to a CV or application. However, these features would be of minor importance, compared to your accomplishments in your primary field of interest.

Example of how to handle your two examples succinctly:

Hobbies: intramural badminton, organist for Name-of-Choir

When I see "badminton," I think: This candidate has figured out a good work-life balance, and has resources at his or her disposal for dealing with academic stress, and staying healthy.

When I see "organist for choir", I think: This candidate can relate to other people (can get along with the choir director); this candidate may turn out to have a talent for community outreach; this candidate is smart, creative, disciplined and appreciative of beauty.

Both hobbies suggest to me that this candidate might have a talent for building community in my department.

You never know when an outside interest in going to play in your favor.

Example 1 (fictitious): You practice judo. Someone on the committee does too. S/he is intrigued and reads your application more carefully.

Example 2: A friend thought he would play a bit of chess in the café while waiting his turn to be interviewed for a teaching position (not in the U.S.). He won every game, including against the best local chess player. Word spread, and he got a big crowd for his talk. He got the job. (Of course, he wouldn't have gotten it if his talk hadn't been solid.)

Example 3: I was given permission to take computer science prerequisites concurrently when I changed fields, by virtue of my degree in music. I asked the department head why she signed my permission slip so quickly, after everyone else had said "no exceptions," and she said it was the music degree.

Disclaimer: I have never sat on an admissions committee.

  • 3
    Example 4: The reviewer dislikes your hobby for one reason or another (it implies a level of religiosity, they think its frivolous, or have negative associations with it) and this colors their reading of your application.
    – Fomite
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 4:36
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    @Fomite - the religiosity is easy to downplay. Do you have a couple more examples, I guess I mean counterexamples? I am not feeling very imaginative today. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 4:50
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    I said "nerdy of off-beat hobbies" by "count" I mean "Tabletop gaming might be included in the set of nerdy or offbeat hobbies". Stack Exchange has a whole site on them: rpg.stackexchange.com . And given my example was that a reviewer dislikes something, yes, I'd be imagining that a potential advisor might say "Man, this person spends a lot of time pretending to be an elf. Maybe they're not serious about their work...".
    – Fomite
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 5:37
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    This issue, for me, is that you can't control the responses. In naming something like a hobby, you have invited a panelist to think about your personal life as well as your professional one. A resume isn't the place for that. You selected all positive examples, but I thought it was useful to note that "You never know when an outside interest in going to play in your favor." also means you never know when it won't.
    – Fomite
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 5:42
  • 2
    @jf328 and Fomite, but I still need to hear a couple examples. I'm having trouble imagining a particular hobby mentioned proudly and briefly in a one-line list in a CV that might make a reasonable committee member think, "Oh, yuck." Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 15:51

To a certain degree, I'd say Yes if your proficiency in a particular activity increases the chances you`ll be a good scientist in the field of study you are applying for.

I.E. if you are applying for a Master in Aerospace Engineering having great skills in designing and building in RC models definitely shows that you are in possession of skills that can be useful for a scientist in that field. I first-handily know a guy whose proficiency with xflr5 and fem, obtained from a hobby, were a nice added value when applying for his PhD, which he ultimately got.


Mentioning a slightly quirky hobby can give someone with a pile of CVs a hook to remember you by. They might not remember your name but they will remember that you collect tea pots.

Also, often an interview will start with the 'Simple question to put the interviewee at ease'. Mentioning your interest in Bolivian throat singing will give the interviewer something to ask about.


I would be careful about what you put under hobbies because people on the admissions committee might react in completely unpredictable ways. This can work for or against you. An anecdote:

One lunchtime I saw some staff in the common room browsing through applications for a mathematics position. One of them, a prominent category theorist, started guffawing. "Look", he said, holding up one of the forms, "he lists herpetology as one of his hobbies." Somebody else explained what herpetology is. "Oh," said the category theorist, "I thought it was the study of herpes."

  • Well, and what would be funny about studying herpes? I went to a fascinating talk once about measles outbreaks and chaos theory. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 4:12
  • They will definitely remember this application. Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 16:26


I have never been on a hiring committee, so take this post with a pinch of salt. On the other hand, I have some relevant experience so I though it would make a nice comment, but it came out way too long. Best, take it as a "common sense" advice, but shuffle it way down the priority list.

Also, a lot of it feels like obvious things, but I think there is still value in stating them, so that they can be consciously taken into consideration.

1. The hired person must be able to do the work he or she is hired for.

Here I assume the claims below are truthful and well understood (see point 4. for more on the matter).

Claim "can play church organ well", means that you can work hard to obtain your desired goals, you understand delayed gratification and it is a weak evidence that you can do the necessary work.

However, "Olympic-level swimmer" suggest there will be some additional obstacles. It means that person will probably want to constantly train to maintain such skill and perhaps go to some competitions which might collide with conferences, workshops, seminars or other scheduled activities. Unless the hiring committee goes for the special perks (like potential publicity gain), it is actually a negative signal.

If you are really serious about leading church choir, it might conflict with your work as well.

2. All else being equal, interesting people make for a better team.

Having an interesting hobby is a weak evidence that you may be an interesting person.

A good team is one that works well together, and having people with good skills is not enough by itself for that. Being a "team-player" is important, but there is another factor that is sometimes overlooked: it is good for the team if its members like each other and like talking to each other. Many of us like working with interesting people. The whole place becomes more enjoyable, and being at work may be a thing to look forward to rather than just a necessary routine. Additional non-work topics provide a social glue that makes team works more smoothly.

3. All else being equal, it is better (in the long run) for the employees to have good work-life balance.

Having hobbies (but not too many) is a weak evidence for having a good work-live balance. Although be careful, for example it's a feat to sail around the world, but this immense dedication might also mean this person will be gone sailing exactly when its time to write down the thesis (see also point 1. above).

4. Any statement on your resume has also indirect meaning.

You say you can sight-read. So what, so can I (or could). Yet, such a statement does not mean anything. Even if the person reading your resume does know what it means and what it entails, there is no scale to compare yourself against. One could say in Europe sight-reading is a given if you have any reasonable musical education. But what level of sight-reading?

If you can sight-read like my teacher could or better, then you do have my deepest respect (e.g. Scriabin studies full of accidentals, almost in tempo, and I could spot no mistakes even if I knew the piece recording well; moreover she did not do that by knowing the piece or by ear – she could play my own compositions on the spot too). Yet, how can you convey that information to another person, one that perhaps does not even know what sight-reading is actually about? For example:

  • Oh, you can sight-read? Great, I can read notes too!
  • That person claims he/she can sight-read?! But Chopin is so hard, nobody can sight-right Chopin. That person must be delusional.

By choosing to put some information on your resume you make a decision. These decisions may indirectly reveal something you won't like. Even tiniest details, like punctuation (see Lessons from a year’s worth of hiring data), might matter. If you choose to claim that you "can sight-read", then the hiring committee might misunderstand it as (I am exaggerating on purpose) "puts value in unknown, obscure skills", "has problems communicating clearly" or "does not understand what skills are relevant to the position".

While I would encourage you to include information on your other skills, do so only if you can communicate them clearly without putting too much emphasis. Furthermore, remember the hiring committee will be looking at this from their perspective, in particular "leading a musical ensemble in years 2014-2017" might be more relevant that "can sight-read".

I hope this helps ;-)

  • 1
    I didn't mean I would write on my resume or application "I can sight read" but I meant obviously if I play in Church, then I can sight read. Anyone who knows anything about music would know that so no I wouldn't write "I can sight read"
    – masque
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 3:49
  • "The hired person must be able to do the work he or she is hired for." is I think the biggest reason why hobbies here are at best "meh". If I interview you, I may ask what you do for fun to get a better sense of who you are (and if this is the right geographic area for you). But if I'm reading your CV, I'm looking for job-specific information. "I do this outside thing" is irrelevant for that, and a poor enough signal for if you're a good fit (I dislike a large number of people who do the same things I do...) that I'm not going to rely on it.
    – Fomite
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 4:40
  • @masque I think you are overestimating how much people know about music, esp. when it comes to things that you learn by participating in performances of various kinds.
    – dtldarek
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 10:56

Yes. Include them under a title like you suggested. You're correct. The ability to read music in that fashion is an accomplishment and it may actually suggest an innate ability others don't have.

I've been personally convinced for a long time that artistic aptitude and technical aptitude are frequently paired in individuals. For example, I've known several people who had strong artistic aptitude who I also thought had abnormally high intellectual aptitude.

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