I’ve thought a lot about what to write this month. There’s no way to sugar coat that things are intense right now. Most basic research labs are shut down right — and they should be. As a basic researcher whose work can’t be relegated to the COIVD-19 battle, I’m finding myself in a weird limbo. Also, as a new mom, I don’t have childcare, so I am all of a sudden — like many people — trying to figure out a way to work from home and take care of my baby. We are trying to do it all while maneuvering through a pandemic.
But guess what? I’m home safe. So many of our community members don’t have this luxury because they are busy making sure the world keeps spinning.
So, I wanted to take this space to write about what basic researchers, who all of sudden find themselves without bench work, can do to support our physician colleagues.
- Stop Doing Non-Essential Research: Look, I understand you think your research is important — we all love our science. Can your research be helpful in understanding more about the SAR-CoV-2 virus/COVID-19 disease? If so, awesome — switch gears and contribute to the effort. If not, please stop. I know that many universities have effectively shut down, but many have only stated that “non-essential” research should stop without really defining what “essential” actually means. So, I know of some labs are that kind of skirting around this issue and having people work on projects that could otherwise be left for later. I get it. We will all need grant money. But right now, those pipette tips, gloves and other reagents you are using on your “non-essential” work could be better used elsewhere — especially since ordering and delivering goods is so tough right now. If you are in a situation where someone is making you work when you feel like you shouldn’t, speak up.
- Work to Flatten the Curve: This goes with #1 above, please stay home. More importantly, talk with your friends and family about what flattening the curve I don’t know about you, but I have several family members who aren’t taking this seriously. I think a lot of people still feel like they’re watching a movie on the news — like what’s happening in New York or Seattle isn’t real. But it is.
- Donate Your Lab’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Many health care workers don’t have the PPE they need to treat their patients, so a lot of universities are stepping up to donate their supplies. Contact your department to see if your university has something like this in place and if not, considering organizing a donation drive.
- Hone Your Science Communication Skills: As scientists, this is the most important thing we can all do right now. I asked fellow Early Career Blogger, Jeff Hsu, MD, what he as a physician would like help with from his research colleagues and he said: “I think having basic scientists explain these things — all the COVID-19 diagnostic tests, treatment options & technology — in digestible formats is really helpful to clinicians.” We need to help the community, our family and friends, understand what is going on right now because things are changing drastically every day — it’s hard for even us to keep up with what’s new. If you are new to science communication, Liz Neely’s recent piece about how we are all science communicators now, is a really great primer. Also, like many news outlets, the Atlantic is making their COVID-19 collection publicly accessible for free, so that is a great source of reliable, well-written information to share. A great way to get involved is to see if your university’s communications department, who is undoubtedly overwhelmed right now, has a blog that they want pieces for. This is a great way also to channel all of that anxiety news reading you’ve been doing.
Obviously, I’m sure there are a million different things we all could be doing, but these options are a great start. Also, be kind to yourself — this is an unprecedented time and there’s no right way to navigate through this experience.
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Christa Trexler, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow in the cardiology department at UC San Diego studying the mechanisms behind cardiac development and pathology. She is also one of the coordinators of the 500 Women Scientists San Diego Pod, which focuses on promoting equality and inclusivity while advocating for science in the community. You can follow her tweets @ChristaTrex