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I hope everyone is starting back to in-person research. I have heard from many of you and know you have been working hard on proposals. Talking to my students, I hear a lot about how much they have struggled to do research virtually, without the fun and thrill of hands-on science and without seeing their mentors and peers. The students I talk to are excited, but they are nervous too. Nervous they have forgotten their skills, forgotten how to talk to people, and some are nervous about acquiring covid infections in indoor spaces- all understandable. This year, I became a vocal advocate of reopening K-12 schools. It’s been a challenge but I have also developed some wonderful collaborations through this work- a bright spot. And published a few papers (and a lot of OpEds) myself, including this one.

So, as labs start or complete opening up, I’m sending out a few resources to ease the transition back. To be honest, most of what I found was not helpful. There was way too much emphasis on sanitizing doorknobs (useless) and hand wringing about whether to install automatic door openers, and little useful advice. I pasted the few things I thought were helpful below. Like so many things covid-related, way too much of the information/advice disseminated wasn’t based on sound science or data.

A few things I had to remind myself of as I get ready to go back in person:

  • Some of my students (and maybe yours) are at much higher risk for bad covid outcomes than I or my family are.
  • Some of my students are from communities with high vaccine hesitancy. Not assuming everyone wants to or will get vaccinated is important. Even campuses that are requiring it have to offer exemptions.
  • Being proactive about identifying potential issues in your workspace will help with anxiety from students. For example, many transmissions between adults in school settings happen while eating lunch in small rooms. Encouraging people to eat outside (especially as weather gets better) is a good strategy, even if it adds a few extra minutes to lunch time.

I organized the links into 1) lab practices and 2) social emotional concerns. As always, let me know what you are working on. And here’s to smooth restarts.

Helpful Links

Lab restarting This Agilent page has webinars and practical advice for restarting labs and lab equipment. This one had practical tips also and some social-emotional guidance. Looking at Universities that may have been more open than your own can be helpful. University of Wisconsin has been more in-person than many. This one was refreshingly candid about challenges.

Social/emotional challenges
You can be prepared by:

  • Proactively reaching out to your own campus resource centers and making a list of resources/phone numbers for students in need of counseling or other help.
  • Making sure your students know you aren’t expecting them to kick into 100% gear the second they step into the lab/your office etc.
  • Setting up some low key get togethers in small groups outside to reacquaint people. A few things to remind your students of. Expect some bumps along the road. Depression and anxiety have surged in college students this past year.

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