ESR Blog

How to be a NERD as a self-preservation technique in your PhD (or other stressful situations)

Sometimes being in a continuously intense environment such as doing your PhD in a country you are not familiar with, where they speak a language you don’t understand, with no friends in the beginning and while learning a new complex job, can be too much to bear with. Sometimes you just need to do something new, something manageable, something in which you can choose how much do you want to invest yourself. But, what can that thing be? That thing can be anything, but it is supposed to help you escape the dark days, and if possible, maybe help you make some friends. Some examples can be learning to do pottery, hypnotism, programming in Arduino, learning about history or a new language. Maybe you are more into crafting, then crocheting or cosplay building could be your thing. Perhaps you have always wanted to learn about the role-playing games that you have seen in movies such as Dungeons & Dragons (DnD). Well, whatever rings your bell, this is your call to do it.

Ok, this is a tutorial to become a nerd. But, what is a nerd? Well, the official definition of nerd is: A person who is extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about a particular subject, especially one of specialist or niche interest. That means something that most of the people forget; everyone is a nerd. Your aunt, the one who is a football enthusiast, is a nerd (of football), whether she likes it or not. Your cool cousin, the one who is into cars and rap, that guy is a clear nerd of (surprise surprise) cars and rap. Does your mother know everything about the Kardashians? Nerd. Is your father obsessed with knitting? Nerd. Can your brother in law talk for hours about politics? Neeeeeeeeerd.

And why would you want to be a nerd? Easy, being a nerd grants you the opportunity to have something you like always present in your mind. As it is something you really like, it will help you with the bad times while making you better at it. It will be like a safe place that you are always carrying around.

Now that we have stabilised the basics, let’s see how to become a nice, beautiful and healthy nerd.

Me, a nerd. This is what the media wants you to believe a nerd looks like, and eventhough I do look like that in this picture, I swear it is just for educational porpouses only.

Step 1, Choosing. – What topic do you want to learn? As said before, it can be anything, but if you are in a new environment, I recommend something that can help you to make friends. It is important that you feel really some kind of interest about it. It can be that you find it cool, that you always wanted to know more about it, or that you want to check why people talk so good about it.

As an example, let’s say you have heard about DnD. Maybe you have a friend who plays it. Maybe this post encourages you to do it. Why don’t you give it a try?

Step 2, Resetting. – Forget about any preconceived ideas you have about a topic. Just focus in how awesome something would be if it just worked, if you just would enjoy it with your friends. It is cool because you chose to do it! Who is going to come and tell you that this new hobby of yours is not good enough? Good enough for whom? It just needs to ring a bell for you. We are here to be nerds, because nerding rocks!

We will focus in the playing DnD example. You may start asking yourself what exactly DnD is. Well, maybe you are not sure, but you see that the people that play it are usually committed to it. They seem to have a lot of fun that comes from nowhere for an external observer. And they usually play with their friends, or make life lasting friends while playing! So instead of judging that from the outside, know that you can be one of them easily, you just need a little of context to start.

Step 3, Researching. – How do you do whatever you have chosen? Well, this part is when the fun begins. You are going to learn. But you are going to learn at your own pace, do not stress. Internet has introductions, tutorials, and everything step by step just in the most common pages. Do you want more? Search for forums for already nerds in your topic or get a book about it. You can do many things about it today, but none in 3 days. Maybe you can read a chapter of a book about your hobby per day, or maybe you just can watch a youtube video in the train while going to work. No problems, this is for fun, you choose how you do it. In this step you should find out what kind of equipment you will need in your new hobby in case you need any, and maybe get ready to buy it or borrow it.

In the DnD example you could have a few talks with that friend that already plays the game. You can also check the DnD webpage or any kind of introductory video online. You could even start thinking about potential people that you think would be interested in playing with you, or whether or not are you going to buy the books. Do you want to see how the community is? r/DnD or r/dndmemes are great forums in reddit where you can find newcomers like you along experienced players.

Step 4, Action. – Time to start doing your hobby. You have the objects you need, you have gathered the people you are going to do it with… now, enjoy! It may be even cooler than you expected. Well, that’s because you are enthusiastic about it. Make sure you do it again tomorrow, or next week, that depends on the type of hobby. Now that you are doing it, you are allowed (and encouraged) to dream and daydream about it. Remember, we are here to get nerdy, not just to enjoy a hobby. We are here to enjoy the hobby even when we are not doing it. And what if you change a tiny aspect of the hobby? Maybe it gets better, maybe it is so different while still awesome that you now have two hobbies! That way you can become a nerd of 2 things! Great!

You just played DnD for the first time. It is great! You played with people from your work, and that way it seems that maybe you may end up being friends, not just co-workers. You did a nice character, it can do really impressive magic. “How will my character face certain difficulties that will arise in futures adventures?” you wonder the next day while eating. “Maybe I could fight the enemies, or charm them with my magnetic personality… or a spell…” you find yourself thinking while taking a walk in the park.

Step 5, Nerd. –  You are almost there, almost a nerd. Congratulations. You have already freed yourself from the chains of what is acceptable to be a nerd of. Now it is time to be proud of it. Don’t just think about what you love, show it too, share it, say it. If your aunt can watch her football match during the family meeting, why wouldn’t you talk meanwhile to your little cousin about your DnD session? Maybe he likes the idea of trying it too. You can buy t-shirts to show what you like to the people around you. Imagine if they would also like the same thing you do! You could share your hobby with even more people! Maybe doing it together, or just discussing about it afterwards.

After this step, you are finally a nerd, congratulations, you did great : )

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