Find A Fulfilling Non-Academic Side Hustle


In this last post in the Make Money in Grad School series, I outline a different kind of option for making money in grad school—doing something totally and completely unrelated to grad school. Something that enriches your life and makes you happy.

So far in the series we’ve covered several approaches for funding yourself through grad school:

1.) Scholarships, Fellowships, and Grants
2.) Research and Teaching Assistant Positions
3.) Applying Your Academic Skills to Tutoring and Freelancing

Each of these can be great for leveraging your existing abilities and past accomplishments, as well as building experience and investing in new skills. And there are many professional and financial benefits to using a combination of these approaches. Don’t let fear of failure or rejection prevent you from pursuing a great opportunity. Whether it’s going for a fellowship to fund your dream research project or applying for a teaching assistant position that will give you experience with a class you’d have a blast with, you have little to lose and a lot to gain by pursuing new opportunities.

Before I wrap up this series, there’s one more option for making money in grad school, and I think it’s important enough to warrant its own post. At first glance, this doing something unrelated to grad school might not look as coherent or obviously beneficial as things like scholarships and research positions. But I believe this often overlooked option, for the right people, can be life changing. Having a part-time job that has absolutely nothing to do with your graduate program can be hugely advantageous your happiness and well-being. Here’s why:

Grad school can be long.
Grad school can be hard.
Grad school can be alienating.
Grad school can be all-consuming.

And sometimes, grad students are prone to hanging out at the bar, or gossiping during office hours, to wallow about how long, hard, alienating, and all-consuming grad school is is. Where I went to grad school, hanging out in bars was a part of the culture. My cohort and I had some really good nights, but also some really epic pity parties—about how hard grad school was, and about how broke we were. When you’re in the thick of your grad program, it can be easy to get so caught up in it that you lose track of other key parts of your identity.

The Benefits of a Side Project or Side Hustle

Looking back, I realize that some of the most balanced, well-adjusted, and happy grad students I’ve known were that way because they had something in their life that was unconnected to their identity as a grad student. For some it’s having a spouse and a family. For others it’s a close connection to a group of friends from their softball team or their church group. It can be anything really. The point is that it’s apart. Apart from the day-to-day realities of coursework, the overdue research deadlines, the gnawing guilt of the unfinished journal manuscript, the endless stream of student papers to grade, and those concerns about your relationship with your advisor.

Most grad students can benefit from having an activity, hobby, or social network that’s totally independent from their grad studies. That way, even when your grad program gets hard, you have something else to balance you out and remind you that there is more to the world—more to your world—than being in grad school. And if you’re going to make the investment of time, which we all know is a limited and valuable commodity, why not make your independent-from-grad-school time work for you?

What Side Hustle Is For You?

Even the busiest of working professionals sometimes pursue small side jobs—called side hustles—because they contribute extra income and enrich their life in a meaningful way. That enrichment can come from making new friends or becoming a part of a new community. Or it can be about learning a new skill or developing expertise in a new field. You can define what the benefits are and what goals your side hustle helps you fulfill.

Adore coffee and enjoy meeting new people? Consider looking for a part-time job as a barista. Want to brush up on your bike repair skills and meet people who love the outdoors? See if a local bike shop is hiring. Have a passion for music or talent with an instrument? Play in a band on weekends or teach music lessons after school for a little extra cash. Love kids and want some extra time out in the sun? Sign up to be a camp counselor next summer. Are you an artist or craft aficionado but haven’t been dedicating time to making things lately? Consider making something you can sell on Etsy during the holidays this year.

The options are virtually limitless and they’re completely unique to you. Finding a meaningful side project or job in grad school is about identifying what would be fulfilling and nourishing to you, and then exploring how you can use that time to also make some extra money. The commitment doesn’t need to be significant to make an impact. And the financial component isn’t necessarily the bottom line either. You probably aren’t aiming to build substantial wealth with your side hustle. It isn’t the point.

This last money making option is primarily about investing in your well-being. It’s about adding some depth, variety, and enrichment to your life. But if that investment can also add a few more dollars to your empty student pockets, let’s call it a win-win.

This wraps up the Make Money in Grad School series. What did I miss? I’d love to hear about the creative ways you’ve found to fund your graduate studies and live an awesome life in the process. Drop a line in the comments to share your story.

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    January 14, 2018 @ 3:58 am