By Soumilee Chaudhuri, PhD Student in Medical Neuroscience
When we start graduate school, we are constantly expected to dedicate majority of our time in pursuit of our research/thesis/career. Even though there has been a recent shift in thinking and graduate departments are encouraging students to put mental wellness first and foremost, most times graduate students do not know to use this ‘me-time’. This hesitation and the fact that we typically do not expect academics to fall in the category of athletes/outdoor enthusiasts/dirtbags, many graduate students never really venture into the outdoor world. Additionally, being in the middle of the city (Indianapolis), we also do not have the accessibility to experience the great outdoors as sensationalized by documentaries and social media.
These barriers towards accessibility of the outdoors are further enhanced for international graduate students ( who many not own a vehicle), low-income & first generation graduate students (who may not have the financial means to go outdoors), students who are parents (who have no option for childcare), plus & mid-sized folks, women, women of color and other BIPOC, queer,& disabled graduate students who do not see their representation in outdoor activities. All in all, we can agree that being a graduate student and being at the intersection of these identities multiplies the hesitation one feels about the outdoors; and this hesitation is compounded by all the risks and safety techniques one needs to prepare for when venturing outside.
So, why am I (a mid-size/international/woman of color/doctoral student) encouraging you to get outside? The reason is multi-faceted but all of them point to the fact that the outdoors inherently increases your ability of self-reliance, endurance, planning, and collaboration; it shakes you off of any gloom and sculpts out a version of yourself that might have been dulled after conducting 50+ bench experiments per week/ 20 ANOVAs/reading 15 papers on DNA Sequencing. More so, many amateur and skilled outdoor enthusiasts are actively working towards researching the benefits of outdoor-driven physical activity (hiking, backpacking, climbing) on graduate productively and the results have been very optimistic; several groups working towards increasing access of graduate students to the outdoors (Recreational hiking at IUPUI, Reconnect Earth in Washington, etc.) are beginning to emerge to help grad students become comfortable outdoors so that they can use those skills for advancement in their own academic disciplines.
Personally, my experiences in the outdoors permeate into my skillset as a doctoral student and informs the way I think and conduct research; I have come from thinking I am fat, nerdy, clumsy, indecisive, naïve to taking charge, making informed decisions and realizing how strong I can be, be it in making a fire or writing an abstract or giving a presentation. So next time you have a free weekend, want to try something new, and feel strong in that process—take a break from your literature review and grab a buddy (or just your dog) to get into the woods. All you need is a destination, a shared vehicle, some sturdy shoes, a map (All Trails/Onyx), and enough water to get started on your outdoor journey here, near Indianapolis. If you want to start near, go to Eagle Creek, Fort Harrison, Holliday Park, Monon Trail, Garfield Park; If you want to go somewhere farther, go to Turkey Run, Shades, Brown County, Mounds State Park. And if you want to go even farther go to the beauty of the south: The Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachians. And don’t forget if you are strong enough to venture into a new area of research as a graduate student, you are capable of venturing into any outdoors just with the right tools and a little preparation).
And if you need more inspiration or someone to huff and puff with you on your hikes, you can follow me (@soumilee.chaudhuri) down some trails in Southern Indiana or the Wild Wild West.