Hello PhD

Hello PhD

134. Lessons from the Quarantine

May 29, 2020

COVID-19 is a wildfire burning its way around the planet.

Its impacts are devastating to nearly every aspect of our modern lives: loved ones lost, economies destroyed, and plans put on hold indefinitely.

But like a fire, it’s also shedding light, illuminating the hidden corners of our society and our routines that we may not have taken the time to examine before.

When this fire eventually burns itself out, should we go back to living in the dark, or are there lessons we should learn? Are there torches we can carry beyond this trial to more permanently transform our work, our values, and our lives?

This week on the show, we reflect on the lessons learned from the global experiment that COVID-19 has forced on our lives.

Though none of us chose to participate, we have all been enrolled in a massive clinical trial.

We have upended our work habits, leaving our labs and offices to quarantine at home. We’ve been forced to rethink the pace of our work, the value of ‘face time’, and the strategies we employ for doing everything from lab work to ordering takeout.

And while the devastation is real, not every change has been harmful. On the contrary, we’ve identified at least five transformations that we’d like to maintain even after the pandemic is over…

Slowing our pace may speed up science

Most researchers have been out of the lab for two months or more. What have they been doing with this extra time?

For many, it’s a chance to spend more time thinking about their research, rather than doing the next experiment just to keep busy. This planning time can pay outsized dividends, as we learned when we spoke with Dr. Jimena Giudice back in Episode 122.

Scientists often fill their days with busyness and experiments, without thinking strategically about how those results will advance their next paper or the question they hope to resolve.

Slowing down has allowed many scientists to plan a leaner, more targeted approach to those answers.

Technology can make science more accessible

Raise your hand if you’ve participated in a Zoom meeting that, three months ago, would’ve been done in person with half as many participants…

By pushing conversation online, we’ve opened up a whole new world of collaboration where your physical distance from the research is no barrier to your participation. As dissertation defenses, journal clubs, and research seminars move online, science becomes more accessible and more collaborative.

We need to ensure that this online access continues even after we can safely meet together in person.

Remote work has some advantages

Sure, you need to be physically present in the lab when splitting cells or running a PCR because your house or local coffee shop don’t have a laminar flow hood, Vortex mixer, and thermocycler.

But what about the times you need to read journals or write a manuscript? Many scientists can find the lab distracting when engaging in these solitary pursuits.

But ask the typical graduate student whether it’s okay to ‘work from home for a few days’ while writing, and they’ll reflexively default to lab attendance regardless of the activity, the holiday, or the weekend.

As we prove to ourselves and our colleagues that we CA...