Life Scientists Working from Home: The Impact of COVID-19
What We Can Learn About Home-Office From Sir Isaac Newton
Did you know that one of the most famous scientists, Isaac Newton, had to work from home for over a year due to a plague outbreak in 1665? The funny thing is that during his isolation, Isaac Newton was able to develop his seminal theories on classical mechanics! . Keep in mind that was over 355 years ago! With the aid of technology, life scientists are better equipped to deal with such a pandemic. In this article, we will dive into what it looks like to work from home as a life scientist, and what are some of the best practices.
The scientific breakthrough leaders are at a point where they don’t know if they can carry out their experiments because of COVID-19 related working restrictions. They are being forced to work from home, an environment that scientists wouldn’t necessarily call an ideal working domain. It is funny how, when things seem the darkest, moments of opportunity present themselves in the most unexpected ways. Life Scientists are now using this time to better themselves by developing new research topics, working on writing manuscripts, and finding new ways to collaborate with other scientists around the world.
Covid-19 Forcing Home Office
Everyone has been seriously impacted by the emergence of the ever-evolving COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic. It has forced businesses to close, people to lose their jobs, and our daily lives have been completely flipped upside down. Certain professions such as life scientists and pathologists have had to figure out a way to keep on working.
The terms “Social Distancing” and “self-quarantine” have put pressure on all of us and forced us to carry out our work from home. It isn’t always that easy, especially for life science PhDs, postdoctoral researchers, and pathologists alike. Institutions and laboratories where most of their work was conducted, are being either partially or completely shut down worldwide! This is forcing these professionals to make an immediate switch from working in a laboratory or institution to essentially working from home. As one can imagine, several hurdles must be taken into consideration when looking at the workflow of these essential workers. There workflow and working conditions are impacted in ways that we can’t imagine.
What Is the Impact on Life Scientists and Labs?
As you can imagine, the COVID-19 has directly impacted several different aspects of a life scientist’s daily routine. Their research progress and working conditions are being completely dictated by the presence of COVID-19. There was a survey conducted by a couple of German scientists named Jan O. Korbel and Oliver Stegle, that looked at the impact of COVID-19 on the daily lives of life scientists. They sent the survey out to several of their colleagues in Germany, Spain, the UK, Italy, France, Canada, Turkey, and the USA between April 15-23, 2020. They summarized their findings below:
The global changes have felt like a whirlwind to many life scientists. Frustrations are being felt by life scientists around the world because they weren’t prepared for the domino effect of the COVID-19 virus. • Canceled Conferences: For many life scientists, scientific conferences are an integral part of their jobs. Some scientists may have been preparing to go to one of these events for months to learn or even present. Conferences are a way to network and see what is happening in the scientific community. • Research Break: As worldwide closure becomes more and more normal research projects are put on hold. Some research studies simply cannot continue due to a lack of equipment. Scientists just simply do not have a complete lab in their houses. All the hard work and effort that was put into their research projects could potentially be lost. They would have to redo everything when things start to normalize. • Emotional Impact: The canceling of conferences and the hold on research projects has an emotional impact on these scientists. All this hard work can feel like it was done for nothing. This can be especially frightening for your life scientists, who may have a short-term contract. They may be asking themselves, “what about my future career?”
What Can Life Scientists Do Working from Home?
When you think of the workflow of a life scientist you may visualize them working in a lab, following a routine, and interacting with fellow scientists on a team. Now think of a way to do all that work from home. Many life scientists have been asked to work from home, but how practical is that when their jobs require them to work inside a laboratory with highly advanced machinery? The answer is it isn’t that practical, but within research projects, there are many things that one can work on. • Plan Future Experiments: Use this time to write down ideas, think about methods, and explore research suppliers. • Social Networking: Find and connect with other scientists on social media, share their content, and engage with their research to build your personal connections. • Read Up on Your Subject: Spend some time reading scientific that stack of scientific articles that’s on your reading list. Many tasks can be done in this interesting time. Even though several scientists reported that their research hours have been reduced, many have sought out other productive ways to fill their time. Some may spend more time working on data analysis, while others may spend their time writing manuscript papers or working on grant applications. The thought of working from home during the pandemic may have been frightening, but some may argue that there is a silver lining. Researchers now can allocate more time to tasks that may have simply slipped through the cracks.
What Is the Impact on Collaboration?
As more and more scientists transition into working from home face to face communication is lost, but thanks to the digital revolution, they are now able to communicate and collaborate with ease. To no surprise, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an added emphasis on video conferencing systems. Video conferencing became the norm, it allowed life scientists to collaborate, review, and develop science.
When looking at the COVID-19 pandemic you can see that there needs to be a global effort. International collaboration is a must when it comes to a global pandemic of such magnitude and scientists around the world must work together digitally to come up with solutions fast. Digital collaborations open up opportunities for international collaboration, and in scientific research, it should become a norm, not an exception. Mukhisa Kituyi (Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) said in an article, “There is strength in numbers. We learn more, and faster, together – and the pandemic is underscoring the critical role of international collaboration on the frontiers of science and technology.”
As we can see, working from home isn’t ideal for life scientists, but they have quickly adapted to the ever-changing working conditions. In some cases, their research has been shut down, without any indication of when they can return. Important conferences around the world have been canceled where scientists gather to network and educate themselves on the topic at hand. This all hits hard emotionally for many of the life scientists working from home. So may not even know what is next for them in the future. On the bright side, there are so many positive things life scientists can accomplish even if they are working from home. Starting/researching future experiments, social networking, reading up on their research topic, focus on writing, work on projects that have been put off, and develop professionally and personally are all activities that scientists can participate in working from home. Also, a lot of researchers are now opening up to new and innovative ways to collaborate internationally with like-minded individual. This opens up several opportunities to network and even become a part of a positive movement in trying to research the COVID-19 virus. A movement that needs scientists from all over the world. Being able to collaborate effectively with multiple scientists that come from different specialized backgrounds, are crucial to put a stop to this virus. It is also revolutionizing the way science is conducted! Keep in mind what Isaac Newton achieved 355 years ago during isolation with limited technology. This can motivate us to continue working from home with the aid of digital technology!
 Emeritus Professor of History of Science and Technology A, Hall R, Hall AR, Newton I. Isaac Newton: eighteenth century perspectives: Oxford University Press; 1999.  Korbel, J.O., Stegle, O. Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on life scientists. Genome Biol 21, 113 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13059-020-02031-1  Roome, S. (2020, March 24). The Life Scientists’ Guide to Working Remotely. Retrieved July 16, 2020, from https://www.hellobio.com/blog/the-life-scientists-guide-to-working-remotely.html  Kituyi, M. (2020, May 15). COVID-19: Collaboration is the engine of global science – especially for developing countries. Retrieved July 16, 2020, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/global-science-collaboration-open-source-covid-19/