Play time for researchers


How hobbies can boost scientists’ productivity and creativity.

When Audrey Kelly isn’t catching toads and analysing their DNA to study how species hybridize, she makes bread. Kelly is a fifth-year PhD student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and she learnt to bake from her father before she moved away for her undergraduate programme. “It’s kind of like a science experiment,” she says, “but you get to eat it at the end.”

As she does in the laboratory, Kelly records her methods and results in a notebook, but she doesn’t take it too seriously: the hobby offers a break from the stress of doing science. “You’re not as worried about screwing up,” she says. “Your career’s not on the line.”

Many scientists struggle to take time away from the never-ending demands of research — and to flout the pervasive culture of overwork — to pursue personal interests. Kelly says that she sometimes feels guilty when elbow-deep in dough. “If you are not working yourself to the bone and crying yourself to sleep every night,” she asks rhetorically, “are you working hard enough?” Many surveys reveal that academic scientists regularly put in overtime; one poll, conducted by Nature in 2016, found that more than one-third of early-career researchers worked for more than 60 hours a week (see Nature 538, 446–449; 2016).

Read the full story in Nature.

Hobbies like making pottery can give researchers’ brains a break. (Credit: Stevesworldofphotos via Flickr)