Turning off my phone improved my science – Nature Careers

From Nature Careers

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In early 2021, I hit a rut in my studies. As a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago in Illinois, I work at the interface of polymer chemistry and immunology, using synthetic strategies to design safer, more effective materials for vaccine and gene delivery. Although I had been productive early in my graduate career, my long hours and hard work were no longer translating into success in the laboratory, and I felt hopeless about achieving my goals. Something had to change.

As I began to search for the cause of my struggles, I became increasingly aware that my ‘quiet time’ at the lab bench — for instance, when I was running chromatography columns or microscopy experiments — was anything but. Instead of thinking about science, I was watching television or interacting with social media on my smartphone. Although I could mask this inefficiency with longer hours, my work felt chaotic and disorganized. I was working more than ever, but getting less done. I would come home from a long day in the lab and respond to e-mails or Slack messages over dinner or in bed. This all came to a head last summer, when my inability to balance work and life led me to seek help from the university’s student mental-health services.

Through a combination of counselling and personal reflection, I came to understand my problem: I was addicted to my phone.

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