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139. Back to School During a Pandemic

In March 2020, the world shut down.

International borders were sealed. Businesses shuttered. Schools locked their doors and students were sent home to learn ‘remotely.’

At the same time, many universities and research labs also closed down for the summer of COVID-19. While a few labs remained open as essential research continued, many scientists froze down samples, trashed cell lines, and went home to spend some quality time with PubMed.

But now as summer wanes, the research labs are thawing out.

This week on the show, we called three researchers at different universities and in different career stages to find out what it’s like to go back to lab amid a pandemic.

We learn how they spent the quarantine, and whether they’re ready to return to the bench.

We also find out what policies are in place for a safe return, and what extra precautions they’re taking to avoid contracting or spreading this still-dangerous disease.

We talk about many serious challenges:

  • How do you learn a new technique when no one can sit near you?
  • What can first-year students learn in a rotation when the PI is never there?
  • Is it possible to socially-distance in the tissue culture room, or is everyone safe if they just wear a mask?
  • How do core-facilities process samples if the researcher is not there to guide the process?

But we also find some silver linings:

  • Every student can attend virtual research meetings.
  • Every scientist, no matter where in the world, can give a departmental seminar
  • Taking time away from the lab can inspire more creative thinking and detailed planning.

No one wants this pandemic to last a minute longer than necessary, but the scientists we interviewed show they are resilient, resourceful, and dedicated to their research – just as you would expect.

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