Tuesday, March 8, 2022

24/7 Connectivity and Lab Life: A Perspective

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society, Nature of Science, Learning

Ed Hessler

One of the items common to scientists is the cell phone, in hand or lab bench or in the field. 

Adam Weiss is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago who is doing research that involved polymer chemistry and immunology. The aim is to use synthetic "strategies to design safer, more effective materials for vaccine and gene delivery." He wrote this CareerColumn for the British journal Nature.

He noticed that his productivity had been decreasing to the point that his "long hours and hard work were no longer translating into success in the laboratory." So he began to search for possible reasons. He noticed that his '"quiet time' at the lab bench...was anything but. (He) "was watching television or interacting with social media on (his) smartphone." Eventually he learned that he had an addiction to his phone and he mentions counseling.

In this recollection published in the journal Nature he calls attention to a design feataure of cell phones. They are designed to be. He chose to "reduce...connectivity by using a basic movile phone with an Internet connection during work hours, and removing unneccessary apps from (his) smartphone. He knew that messages would be waiting on his computer and  that he could use another device for listening to music when he chose.

Withdrawal was not easy but Weiss found that he could read science papers related to his work during down time and long experiments, is now writing a review paper for journal submission, and he has "also felt more engaged in seminars and meetings -- coming better prepared, asking questions and taking hand-written notes. (my emphasis). 

This lifestyle change in smartphone habits has its own challenges: not all his "peers have been supportive...(he) has missed messages on communication services and spending less time on academic feeds "could affect (his) career prospects."  He thinks the price of these is small compared to "increased clarity and productivity."

A good read by a person who reflects on his practice with an aim to understand it, improve it and change it, if necessary.

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