Adapting to Our New World
Published September 28, 2020
While we've faced pandemics before, adapting to the realities presented by COVID-19 has been no easy feat. The specific hurdles that Members of our community face are varied, but there's no question that the virus has had an impact on everyone's life.
We wanted to know how our Members are doing: how their work or education has changed; what obstacles they've faced; and what opportunities or new ways of approaching their research have emerged. Below are just a few of the stories they've shared with us.
Answering the Call to Contribute
We're incredibly proud of the contributions Academy Members have made during the pandemic, from research, to supporting their communities and families, to working at the frontlines. Here is one particularly inspiring story from a Member who shifted his focus entirely as the pandemic began.
Joe Thomas (Brooklyn, New York)
"As a PhD student in biomedical engineering, I am very used to doing work that I know won't have a clinical application for at least 10 years. Earlier this year I found myself thrust into a position where my work would have a meaningful impact on patients the very same day. With widespread academic lab closures around the city, I decided to volunteer in SUNY Downstate's pathology department. They needed scientists who had experience performing PCR, and I had just learned the technique a few months prior. The lab was severely understaffed for the workload and there was a very real chance that I would be exposed to the virus and become sick. However, I felt called to step in and provide support since I knew that getting timely test results could be a matter of life and death. ... I went from being a behind the scenes scientist to being on the front lines literally overnight. ... I know my story isn't unique, so I applaud all frontline workers who stepped up and put themselves in harm's way when it mattered."
Approaching Learning in New Ways
Remote learning, whether for a short time or longer term, hasn't been an easy adjustment. But we've also heard stories from students and educators in our network about some of the upsides of these changes, including added perks that might be missed in the future.
Aditya Chaudhary (Lucknow, India)
"I have learned that my teachers, my school, my friends and I are resilient and that we are capable of coming up with creative solutions to problems when we’re faced with unforeseen uncertainties. ... Another perk is that we can all sleep in just that little bit longer as we don’t have to take into account travel time. Also, by sneakily switching my camera off I am able to learn and eat my breakfast simultaneously!"
Rida Yumn Ahmed (New Delhi, India)
"I'm in senior year of high school and it's supposed to be the most important year as it sets the stage for higher education, but we're lacking access to practicals and missing our experiments in the lab. However, I've tried experiments through virtual labs which gives me a sense of conducting the practicals and has enhanced my knowledge as well. ... Thankfully the Academy has provided virtual platforms like The Junior Academy which has been such a productive and collaborative platform which made quarantine more fun. ... All this virtual exposure to scientific papers, talks, and projects, has made me realize that STEM has no boundaries and we're building the future!"
Involving the Whole Family
We even heard from one family with three Academy Members, each finding ways to use their interest in STEM to make an impact during the pandemic.
NseAbasi NsikakAbasi Etim (Uyo, Nigeria)
"During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was national lockdown in my country. This prevented me from going to teach students and from being in laboratory to conduct research. ... I resorted to volunteering online to fight COVID-19 by serving as a mentor in #AfricaVsVirus Challenge. My team designed a virtual classroom for online learning for K-12 to higher education, and it was one of the winning projects. I also volunteered as a mentor in Hacking COVID-19 Africa Challenge. Furthermore, I signed up as a mentor in Youth Innovation and DesignBootcamp 2020 on COVID-19, organized by the United Nations Economic Commission forAfrica (UNECA) and its partners. My team, which took first position, designed a kit containing self-sterilized face masks, an enhanced face shield, and a portable UV-light sterilizer for sterilizing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in hospitals and at home. So while in lockdown, I was still able to work remotely and contribute to global efforts to fight the coronavirus."
Nsikak-Abasi Aniefiok Etim (Uyo, Nigeria)
"As a passionate STEM researcher, I was keen to learn how the novel infectious disease was transmitted and how to break the chain of infection in my immediate community. I promptly enrolled in an online course where I received training on key aspects of covid infection and immunity. ... As the country continues to navigate in the midst of the pandemic, I am still working in a virtual environment to break the chain of transmission and provide technological and non-technological solutions to challenges posed by the pandemic."
NsikakAbasi Etim Jr. (Uyo, Nigeria)
"A short while into the lockdown, I pondered how to use my time productively. ... [This] included taking various courses to widen my scope and knowledge and attending workshops related to my STEM field to fully equip me with skills to enhance my professional growth and development. ... I had and still have the desire to contribute to fighting this pandemic, so I enrolled in the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medical and Health Sciences (MBRU) Community Immunity Ambassador Program which gave me new knowledge to share with my community and help stop the spread of COVID-19. ... I also participated in various challenges aimed at solving problems posed by the pandemic. This period is really invaluable for me because I can use it to gain new knowledge and skills, and spend quality time with my family."
Building a New Future
More than anything else, we heard how the pandemic is driving our network to think about the future and how we might use this time to learn lessons that can inform our work and collaborations in the years to come.
Menglu Yang (Boston, Massachusetts)
"I am on my third year of postdoc training, and I was planning to seek a new job at the beginning of this year. I was so disappointed when conferences got canceled, which are essential for job-hunting. But when the stay-at-home order began, I had more time to listen to my heart. ... I also took a series of zoom lectures on career development. Only during this special time have I had a chance to think seriously about my career path. ... Also, I have developed another hobby of writing manuscripts outdoors, where being surrounded by nature helps me stay focused."
Ramik Williams (New York, NY)
"I work in philanthropy and my work brings me into proximity with several STEM organizations. ... Going forward I will look to learn from STEM organizations of various sizes and scopes that have successfully implemented a remote working capacity and seek to share any information that might help organizations plan for future, similar situations."
Rupam Ghosh (Chandannagar, India)
"My labs are unreachable but we are adapting the computational methods for our research, and now I’ve found it is easier and relaxing. ... In my view, COVID-19 has opened our eyes in many ways, not only to the bad but also to slow down. I think life is changing and after all this ends we shouldn’t try to get back to our past but should work to adapt."
At this year's Annual Meeting we’ll explore the changing nature of conducting science in today’s world. Join us on October 27 for a conversation examining how “research culture” is evolving and how we might use what we’re learning to build a stronger field in the future.