All aspects of my professional work as an associate professor of biology have been altered by the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. I especially am investing my time in different ways and am working mostly at home. Working from home would have been severely prohibitive for me just a few weeks ago, due to lack of access to adequate internet connectivity in the rural area where I live. However, our local electric cooperative now provides fiber optic internet that my family and I are using to our full advantage, as we engage in professional & school work—and the business of family life—simultaneously.
Research aspects of my work suddenly became secondary to teaching responsibilities. All of my teaching switched abruptly from quality in-person experiences honed over years, to hastily contrived online substitutes cobbled together in a panic.
Research aspects of my work suddenly became secondary to teaching responsibilities. All of my teaching switched abruptly from quality in-person experiences honed over years, to hastily contrived online substitutes cobbled together in a panic. The biggest challenge was delivery of emergency substitutes for field and laboratory coursework. Thus, I have been creating, documenting and demonstrating activities from home. This has meant Drosophila breeding experiments on the dining room table, seedlings in a window sill, and turning a corner of the garage into a video production set to capture animal behavior. During my unpaid summer, I will be investing significant time and effort in professional development opportunities that I hope will help me do a better job of continued, emergency, remote instruction that will be necessary in the coming academic year. In some instances, redundant planning for in-person, remote and hybrid instructional modes must be done.
Due to recent departures of employees and hiring freezes, I do not have the assistance of a laboratory technician or collections manager, who normally would support my teaching and research, which means I am doing that work myself, on top of usual and additional responsibilities.
My access to campus facilities is limited to once per week, and this is a special privilege so that I may care for the physical laboratory resources. Almost all research work on my campus has been discontinued or put on hold. The vast majority of students are prohibited from entering campus buildings, and their research in my lab has stopped.
My research activity normally involves field work and use of specimens from institutional collections. These collections are closed, and I cannot visit them. Specimens borrowed from collections are not being used, and they have been boxed up and fill the lab benches normally occupied by students (see figure).
Due to certain travel restrictions, my field work has been delayed, and I was fortunate to obtain one-year extensions from grant agencies for time-sensitive aspects of these studies. However, an ongoing project at a local wildlife refuge will have at least a one-year gap.
My research collaborators around the globe are facing similar, if not more extreme, restrictions and challenges, not the least of which is lack of internet access. The majority of my collaborations are on hold or progressing extremely slowly. Professional meetings have been canceled or indefinitely postponed.
Graduate students have had to halt or delay projects. My undergraduate research students have had a variety of on-the-fly substitute projects to complete from home. In some cases, depth and breadth of study have been sacrificed so students could complete alternatives to fulfill degree requirements on time. Looking ahead, I am concerned about multiple cohorts of developing researchers worldwide who will have critical gaps in their experience and knowledge bases, due to the limitations we face.
Sabbatical leaves for research, including my own, have been delayed or are in question. Faculty promotion clocks have been altered and complicated. Submission of my own dossier likely will be delayed by at least one year. Our campus anticipates increased faculty teaching loads to help off-set financial impacts. We are not alone, and in fact, we may be among the fortunate.
We are not alone, and in fact, we may be among the fortunate.
On a positive note, I’ve been able to make more rapid and substantial progress than expected on biodiversity data transcription, editing and management. Public access to important data from historical collections and literature will be available in greater quantity and sooner than expected. I may also be able to complete and submit some manuscripts that had been delayed due to now moot priorities. As an editor, I am beginning to see others have had the same opportunities. Clearly, Covid-19 will have a lasting impact on research progress and prospects for years to come, in ways we recognize and in ways we have yet to anticipate.