Like many of you, we are now faced with the new challenge of leading our research teams remotely. The social distancing required by the COVID-19 outbreak means that our fellows, students, and research assistants are all working from home. The logistics of how we do this will likely be a moving target. But before we can figure out how to do it, there is the question of what to do. What meaningful activities can we perform given the inability to physically meet or be in our lab? Here are some ideas:

  1. Re-analyze: Since new data generation may be difficult or impossible, take a look at the datasets you already have. Are there new ways to look at the old data? Can you combine datasets with a collaborator to ask a new question? Can you finally do the sensitivity analysis or painful recoding of data required to answer that question pesky reviewer 2 (or that guy who always comes to conference) keeps asking? I don’t think my re-analysis activities will result in a scientific breakthrough, but they may be excellent pilot data for a grant, an added figure in a paper, an interesting brief report, or (worst case scenario) a good learning opportunity for my trainees.
  2. Re-organize: Time to make sure those piles of digital content are cataloged and collated. For example, I have ten years’ worth of Power Point presentations. A major task for my new research assistant in the weeks to come will be to organize all these slides into a slide library for the lab. It will be a huge help for future efficiency and will get him familiar with much of the work we did in the lab before he joined the team.
  3. Re-prioritize: Identify your top manuscripts that have been waiting for your attention and get to writing. In addition to making a concerted effort to finish up original research articles, consider assembling a team for a review article (trainees, collaborators, etc.), perspective article, or even a blog post!
  4. Re-assess: Use this time to scan the horizon for additional grant opportunities. Have your team search for grant opportunities through foundations and professional organizations and start writing aims and proposals.
  5. Re-connect: As our scientific meetings are cancelled, we will be missing the opportunity to share ideas with or colleagues at other institutions. Reach out to a colleague and schedule a call to re-connect. Have your teams organize a joint lab meeting or a virtual poster session to give people a chance to present those abstracts that were accepted to cancelled meetings.
  6. Review: As you get invitations from reputable journals to review articles relevant to your work selectively click “Accept.” If possible, include your trainee(s) in the review process so they can learn this skill.
  7. Read: In addition to that stack of papers you’ve been meaning to get to, identify some high-impact papers on the “edges” of your work. Have your lab team help you organize web-based journal clubs.
  8. Re-imagine: New ideas are likely to bubble up as we are learning so much about the science and sociology of pandemics. Look for new ways to embed questions in the work you are doing.

Remember that we are not striving for social distancing, we are striving for physical distancing. Ensuring ongoing social connection and maintaining good work and routine throughout is our main commitment to each other and our work. Add your ideas in the comments below to keep the conversation going!

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When Coronavirus Closes Your Lab, Can Science Go On?

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1 Comment
Dr. David F. Aust says:

I am interested in learning more!

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