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I'm starting a doctorate focusing on artificial intelligence and network security, and have all of my technical classes paid for and organized. The schedule is currently forecasted at 60-ish hours a week of classes, grading, research, and other required activities. I feel this is reasonable.

However, I'd also like to take advantage of the expertise on campus and take piano lessons offered as credited classes by my school. These classes would be taught by the institute as graded classes but would not contribute in any way to my doctorate requirements or employment. They would be fully paid for by my scholarships, along with any other classes I'm taking.

On the plus side, I feel like learning something outside of my doctorate will make me a better rounded student, and music has always given me a safe, healthy outlet for stress and anxiety. And it seems like such a waste to pass up on free lessons from a professional when I'd be paying upwards of $1000 for lessons from a non-professional anyway.

However, I'm worried about attempting this for a couple reasons:

First, I'm worried that my adviser would see these extra hours as a signal that I'm not working to my maximum potential on his project. It's one thing to have hobbies and outlets, it's another to take extraneous classes that could be replaced with required ones.

Secondly, this could be an easy official scapegoat if anything goes wrong with my research. If I get a B in my required classes, it would be easy to say that the five hours a week in this class could have been used to study.

Finally, while the scholarship contract specifically says "all classes" are paid for, I'm worried it would be seen as unethical to ask the computer science department to pay for a class that has nothing to do with my doctorate.

  • They may not actually pay for "all" classes, particularly since they are likely not in your school within the university. Where I went to grad school there was also a hotel management program - for some reason the engineering school would not pay for us to take the wine appreciation classes over there... – Jon Custer Aug 16 '17 at 23:19
  • @JonCuster At least a wine tasting might give you an edge in a fancy interview. I've got nothing here. – GGMG-he-him Aug 16 '17 at 23:23
  • Well, you might be surprised by how many professors and other students also study music and might be quite happy to accommodate your class. You should ask your advisor or the department chair (or ask around before doing that to find out if they do anything musical). – Jon Custer Aug 16 '17 at 23:33
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    I did this. During my PhD studies in applied math, I took two semesters of percussion lessons, and played in the university wind ensemble (for non-music majors). I did this during a couple of semesters of relatively lower stress (no big exams, no killer TA assignment). Fun! Making a decision like this on your own is a sign of maturity. Be prepared to withdraw from the class by the safe deadline in case you find out you've bitten off more than you can chew. – aparente001 Aug 17 '17 at 0:06
  • Apart from the financial point, I don't see any reason for your advisor having a problem with this. As long as you take all the required classes, taking additional ones is no different than having any other hobby which takes up some of your time. Academics do have hobbies and they might well be an important part of keeping you sane during the stressful times ahead. – skymningen Aug 17 '17 at 7:22
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Lots of people do this, especially if their funding allows them to take out-of-program courses. But you should

  • Check first that your advisor is OK with it. Tell them that music has always given you a safe, healthy outlet for stress and anxiety. Skip the well-rounded student part.
  • If you don't yet have an advisor, check with the graduate director. In fact, you might want to check with the graduate director anyway if you have any reason to doubt that your advisor's say-so will cover your bases.
  • Take the outside course pass-fail or undergrad level if possible. Tell your advisor/grad director that that's what you're doing.

Some programs might have the kind of issues you describe about "focusing on your studies," but most won't. A few might have issues about paying for an out-of-program course. But in any event they're going to find out about it anyway, so you should approach them about it first.

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    And some programs' coverage of tuition is only up to a certain number of credit hours (as is the case at my R1 institution), so you'd not want to go over that limit and have to pay the tuition (with possibly a senseless penalty, etc). – paul garrett Aug 17 '17 at 0:48
  • Asked the adviser about it and was given the green light, so long as the time absolutely does not conflict with anything official. Thanks for the awesome answer. – GGMG-he-him Aug 17 '17 at 15:51
  • @GGMG Fantastic! Enjoy the piano lessons! – Elizabeth Henning Aug 17 '17 at 16:36
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Absolutely. I took every PE course offered in my university during my doctoral program since I wasn't taking a real course but was still receiving a tuition waiver after my second year.

I gained a lot of useful life skills and certifications as a result and became a more well rounded individual. In addition, I made friends outside of my department - which is a necessity for having a healthy social life in graduate school.

Contrary to the previous poster, I never checked in with my adviser or director of graduate studies - he didn't care as long as I did my work well and on time. These were all pass-fail courses and were quite popular among many of my graduate student friends.

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