The Uncertainty of Research: Reality Check
For many of us, the Covid-19 work environment we have been thrust into is one of instability and uncertainty. In reflecting on all this uncertainty, I can’t help but think about all of my research colleagues from the public health practitioners and infectious disease epidemiologists, to the wet lab scientists and animal lab scientists, to the clinical trialists and clinical researchers. I am not sure if the world around us understands the hard decisions many of us are working through or hardships we are about to endure.
I started my career in infectious disease epi running HIV clinical trials overseas. One of my mentors was one of the first female scientists to receive R01 funding for international HIV clinical trials in Rwanda. She moved her family there to conduct her work and to live out her passion to help solve a world-wide pandemic that saw no borders. She was passionate, compassionate and was making enormous strides, and then political unrest hit. She found herself in a terrible terrible situation. The NIH told her she had 24 hours to get her staff and family out of the country. When asked what she was to do with her lab, samples, infrastructure, etc. she was told to BURN IT ALL! And in an instant her life changed. Her life’s work was gone, her future was uncertain, and more importantly the future of the people she was trying to save was uncertain.
I will never forget her sharing that story with me, nor will I forget how I felt as she expressed her sincere guilt and remorse for having to make such difficult decisions.
I think about her now as so many of us are making decisions about animals in our labs, and whether culling will be necessary. I think about the clinical trials of potential life-saving drugs that have halted and the disappointed patients and patient families that we might have to let down. I think about the grant funding that we might all lose, resulting in the loss of team members we care about. I think about the passion and dedication that goes unseen for many of us, processing samples in the middle of the night, showing up over the weekend to consent a patient, breeding animals and the hours and days away from our families writing and rewriting to find funds to support the work that we are so passionate about. I think about how the uncertainty of this environment has put our passion, our hard work and sacrifice, at risk.
I am truly grateful for all of the first responders that are out there seeing patients, risking exposure and meeting day-to-day challenges! BUT I am just as grateful to stand shoulder to shoulder with all of my research colleagues as we brave this new normal together.
You are understood, you are not alone, you are awesome!