This month signifies a full calendar year since the covid-19 pandemic has been declared a crisis and activated a worldwide response. To be exact, the WHO declared covid-19 a pandemic on March 11th, 2020. Of course, the signs were there beforehand. Starting in December 2019, there were officials in China focusing their attention on the city of Wuhan, where a flu-like disease was spreading in a cluster linked to a specific local market. By January 2020, reports of first deaths and first confirmed cases outside of China started to pop up around the world. And in early February, the news about clusters in France, Germany, cruise ships and more, should have made it clear (in retrospect) that we have a global infectious disease spreading around us. It took the world another 5-6 weeks to actually call it a Pandemic. As of mid-March 2020, our approaches have dramatically pivoted, and here we are a year later, living (with tragic numbers of losses and challenges) in a new world.
I wanted to take this calendar-year anniversary to reflect and examine some of my early thoughts and approaches to navigating the covid-19 pandemic. I’m taking full advantage of the fact that I was afforded the ability to write a blogpost on a monthly basis here in the AHA Early Career Voice (author page) as the crisis was unfolding. Within this space of reflection, I’ll try to spotlight and share some learning moments and lessons learned, in an effort to progress and adapt to the ever-changing world I was (and still am) navigating, as an early career scientist in cardiovascular & biomedical research.
In March 2020 I wrote a blog titled “Science Communication Is The Bridge We Need”, not specifically addressing Covid-19, but the pandemic was definitely was a topic on my mind from what I was reading early last year. I wanted to share my thoughts and personal viewpoint, that echo chambers and microenvironments of news sharing are dominating the internet, and scientific facts are getting missed/lost/covered up. In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that many decision-makers and lots of folks were simply not placing the required amount of urgency and focus on the news about Covid-19 that was spreading worldwide. My two-cents back in March 2020 were that more robust science communication can help with evidence-based news information sharing. I admit I’m proud of that March 2020 blogpost, no redo needed!
By April of last year, my thinking was already shifting with regards to how the pandemic is going to affect early career advancement, and what paths may be ahead. The title of that blog post was “Future Planning in the Time of Corona”, and again, I feel good about how this blogpost holds up! The theme in that written piece was centered on the often cited political tagline “Never let a crisis go to waste”. My take was that a global pandemic is one of the few causes that can truly bring to attention plans and areas of need that a vast majority of the world population can together work on.
A month later, in May 2020 I think I was slightly too optimistic and jumping a little bit ahead of myself! The title of the blogpost was “COVID-19 Stage 2: Embracing Progress, Cautiously”, and while I’m glad I measured my wording… it is now more accurate to say that most of the globe was still in Stage 1 of dealing with the pandemic back in May of last year. In June I wrote about my year-long leadership experience in my local institute’s trainee committee, my way of taking a break from always writing about the pandemic.
By July of 2020 I noticed what we now call pandemic (or covid) fatigue, and the rising tides of anti-science sentiments that started to build up as a result of the masking and social distancing regulations that have changed from one set of recommendations to a different set of ideas within a few months (from March to July). This is why I felt the need to write “Knowledge Advances Incrementally”, a blogpost where I spotlight the main working ethos of the scientific method, which boils down to:
- Have a question
- Come up with a testable hypothesis
- Run the experiment
- Collect data and analyze results
- Verify/validate results by replication
- Conclude what new information you can, making sure to stay exactly within the boundaries of the experiments and data you collected.
The last thing I’ll highlight is my blogpost recapping my experience in attending and participating in the annual Basic Cardiovascular Sciences (BCVS) meeting. This was the first major conference meeting that I have previously attended in-person that switched to a virtual format. I titled that blog post “A New Way To Participate”, and in retrospect, it was one of the most instructional and useful learning experiences that summer. I discussed the advantages (and challenges) that the virtual conference format brings to early-career scientists. Additionally, I pointed out some tips and tricks on how to navigate a fully online annual meeting. Back then there were a lot of wrinkles and tweaks that we learned from, and have implemented in other virtual conferences later in the year. My overall opinion still is positive, and I think that a future that includes an in-person meeting supplemented and balanced with an online component is the best way to progress and upgrade the conference format.
My take-home message today, looking back at this full calendar-year of covid exceptional circumstances, boils down to this: Humility, empathy, and optimism for a better future are essential keys to navigating the rough waters of living through a pandemic. Take care of yourself, and if possible, be helpful to others.
“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”
Mo is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, researching the connections between DNA damage, inflammation, and Heart Failure. Additionally, he serves in various committees to advocate for early career professionals and highlight research within the cardiovascular community. Early Career Social Media Liaison and Member of AHA Council for Basic Cardiovascular Sciences. Twitter @MoalkhalafPhD