Cooking during PhD for wellbeing and health

Life as a researcher can be very hectic with long hours in the library or the laboratory. And after all that hard and tiring work it can be all too easy to reach for the takeaway menu or the ready meal. But Giles Penman discusses his experiences of cooking to relieve stress and promote health and wellbeing.

Research as a PhD student requires hard work and perseverance which can leave one feeling exhausted and without much energy for anything else in the evening. And the last thing one wants to do after a difficult day is to cook a meal from scratch. Therefore, it seems far easier to order a takeaway to be delivered or else pierce the film of a ready meal and put in the microwave.

However, I have found cooking from scratch very relaxing and fun. I particularly enjoy cooking Spaghetti Bolognese. Chopping onions and sweet peppers and herbs, garlic, slicing the mince, and grating the cheese provide me with great feelings of contentment and relaxation. These repeated actions free my mind from the stresses and strains of the long hours of careful reading, thinking and analysis. I feel very much at peace.

Also, mixing different ingredients together and cooking them provides me with many opportunities for creativity. By adding alternative herbs and spices, such as oregano or chili instead of basil, different meat, such as lamb rather than beef, or different types of cheese and pasta, I can change the flavour of the whole dish. This gives me the chance to be constantly inventive and creative with the same basic recipe that gives me a real break from my research, feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready for the next day.

There is also a significant bonus to health by cooking for oneself. With takeaways and ready meals, you cannot really know for certain what goes into the food, even with food labelling. But, by cooking at home, you can be certain that there are no additives and preservatives. Further, because you cook the dish, you will know how much fat, salt, carbohydrate, and protein is in the dish. This knowledge provides opportunities to reduce or indeed increase these in various combinations as you wish to promote a healthy diet. And, a healthy diet can make you feel better and more energized, further promoting wellbeing.

As well as providing a boost to wellbeing and health, other prominent advantages to cooking at home are the financial and time savings. Cooking from scratch allows you to save money. Wherever they are sold, ready meals and takeaways are expensive. But buying the ingredients of a dish individually and cooking them at home is often far cheaper than buying the meal ready-made. This saving can be multiplied by batch-cooking, producing several portions of a dish at once and freezing other portions for later. This method of cooking can also be very handy to save time. If you know you have a busy week of research ahead, cooking in batches beforehand means that after a long day in the library or the laboratory, you can just quickly heat up a frozen portion in the evening. Then you have a delicious home-cooked meal ready to eat in minutes. I have certainly saved money and time and had so much fun cooking in batches. And with money and time being valuable commodities for postgraduate students especially, I am sure many would benefit as I have.

I really enjoy cooking. It is relaxing, peaceful and creative, boosting wellbeing.  And it allows me to remain healthy, further promoting health and wellbeing. If those were not enough reasons to get out the chopping board and pans, cooking can save time and money. With all these advantages, I heartily recommend cooking as a leisure activity.

Have you been cooking during your PhD? If so, please send us photographs of your culinary creations. Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

by Giles

Giles Penman is a PhD researcher supervised by the Classics and History Departments at the University of Warwick. His research concerns the roles and audiences of ancient imagery on British civic cultural artefacts of the Great War. He has a background in Classics, Archaeology and Numismatics

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