COVID Hobbies

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

For many people in the academic world, the coronavirus pandemic sparked a recommitment to hobbies—those time-obliterating pastimes so often set aside, in normal days, in favor of socializing, traveling to conferences, and commuting to and from campus. In June of last year, Lee Skallerup Bessette, a learning design specialist with a university center for teaching, wrote about pruning tomatoes, sewing, and baking bread, in between getting some writing done. “It’s nearly impossible to think about anything else while stitching,” said Megan Koeman-Eding, a coordinator for a college advising office, of her new affinity for cross-stitch—a hobby that had the side benefit of keeping her mind off the news. And Crystal Wilkinson, a professor of English, recently wrote a beautiful essay for Oxford American on her whole family’s rediscovery of cooking and vegetable gardening during the pandemic. This year, Wilkinson wrote, “I worry and cook in the confines of my kitchen just like my grandmother did.” 

Daredevils in Quarantine

While some focused on producing food and fabric art for their homes, others looked for thrills where they could. Cydney Scott, a photographer for Boston University, did a photo essay on members of the BU community who had taken up new hobbies—or rediscovered old ones—during the pandemic. Among her subjects was Scott Bunch, a professor of engineering who’s begun skateboarding—or, rather, gotten back into it after decades away. Scott also photographed Bill Dupee, an analyst/consultant for BU’s Questrom School of Business, who built a whole flight simulator, “complete with instruments, controls, and even rudder pedals.” The septuagenarian reported communing with his son across the Internet, “flying” together, even as they were separated by the pandemic.

When Academics Branch Out

For others, COVID times have offered chances to play around with hobbies that are tangential to—but ended up enriching—their academic work. Archaeologist Sara Ann Knutson wrote that she had taken up photography, and that “the practice has taught me to really ‘see’ light. Now I cannot stop thinking anthropologically about light forms.” A Ph.D student in biology, Rhett Rautsaw, created an eye-catching illustration that landed on the March 2021 cover of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution—the same issue that also published a paper with Rautsaw as lead author. 

Some of these pandemic dabblings got wonderfully nerdy. Sarah Stang, a librarian and consultant, posted a picture of a tray of white crystals: “I’m at the ‘making of my own sea salt from sea water’ stage of pandemic hobbies.” (For those thinking of following suit, proximity to a coastline is probably required.) And Victoria Yell, another Ph.D student in biology, posted an amazing spreadsheet documenting her recent coffee-making efforts. “I know what you’re thinking: ‘but Victoria, making a beverage isn’t a hobby…’”, she joked. “I got a manual espresso maker, and it has made me realize that my career in science has had an irreversible impact on how I conduct everyday life.”

Or Maybe Just The Porch

If you didn’t do any of this tinkering, perfecting, and building—if you spent the COVID times working, wrangling kids, caregiving, healing, or grieving—you aren’t alone there, either. Taylor G. Petrey, a professor of religion, joked that his COVID hobbies ranged from “baking, getting dogs” to “regulating kids’ screen time; Fortnite.” And some found self-soothing to be a full-time hobby, in itself. “People took up all these productive COVID hobbies,” said Darcy Hartman, a lecturer in economics. “My new hobbies—swinging, hammocking, and hot tubbing.” And that, too, is more than fine.

What hobbies, if any, did you adopt during the pandemic? Connect with us on Twitter to join the conversation