The cancer research community is reacting and adapting to the restrictions placed on us by the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ve asked EACR members to contribute articles and advice on the theme of ‘How to be a cancer researcher during coronavirus’.
As for many of our colleagues around the globe, the rapid evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic also meant going into a complete lockdown for our lab. Within a few rushed days, experiments were terminated, mouse colonies reduced, precious patient cell lines frozen down. We all went home – with our computer screen under one arm and much uncertainty on our minds. What followed somewhat resembled a silence after a storm. Or before? Who really knew.
For many of us, this high-speed shutdown felt kind of traumatic. After such a sudden break, it takes time to understand, surrender, and eventually reconcile oneself to the circumstances. And then we all realized that there was actually a huge pile of things that had been patiently waiting to be taken care of and that did not require a lab bench: reviews to be written, datasets to be analysed, grants to be submitted.
By now, we all have read a lot about how-to (and even more about how-not-to) structure our days and arrange our working space in this time of home office. However well-intended, I have often found it overwhelming to read about 15 new ways how-to-make-my-time-as-efficient-as-possible. More than once, I have felt more unproductive afterwards than I did before. With this in mind, I thought to share not more than 2 x 2 thoughts that have inspired and motivated me during these weeks of lockdown.
SEEK NEW SHORES: boost your professional life by daring your unknowns
Look the other way:
Studying a complex disease like cancer, we tend to focus deeply on the peculiarities of this one disease. We look at our scientific problem from all angles of cancer biology, but we can forget that there are many other diseases that could help us understand our cancer-specific puzzle better. Dare the unknown! Explore the literature of an opposite scenario: what happens during a hypersensitivity reaction may be valuable information to what happens (or doesn’t) in cancer. During my PhD I studied an immunoregulatory kinase all the way from autoimmunity to cancer. What I learned in one context was often directly inversely applicable to the other. I found the constant blend of these two worlds incredibly rewarding.
As highly specialized researchers, we often like to stay within – or at least not far from – our comfort zone. Exploring our deficits and facing our personal gaps of knowledge can be painful. Face your weaker self! Dive into the virtual sea of opportunities to learn a new skill that you have been postponing all these months (or years, really). From R programming to academic English writing, thousands of institutions are now offering remote classes to help us develop our skills further.
REVISIT OLD SHORES: ground your private life by reconnecting to your knowns
One of these days I received a postcard from a friend I had not spoken to in years. Taking the lockdown as an opportunity to clean up her postcard collection, she had begun sending messages to friends that she had lost touch with and wanted to reconnect to. Within five minutes we set up a video call and chatted for two hours about old and new times. Sometimes all it takes is a short message to reconnect with people from your past. Apart from being a truly happy surprise, exchanging views with someone I had not heard from in a long time also gave me important new perspectives. And just like this, a two-hour phone call turned into a long-lasting motivational boost.
With many weekends at home in a row, we start looking more carefully at the things we own. Rearranging furniture, sorting out old clothes and cleaning out the basement have become popular indoor activities. Among all these items, there is a good chance you discover some dear old treasures, which will trigger memories and make you travel in time. Search your library and dig out that book you read on your last vacation. Listen to the LP your parents gave you on a special occasion. Looking through old photos can be another great source of joy and inspiration. Several such re-encounters have recently taken me back to different periods in my life and have reminded me how we are constantly evolving and adapting to new environments.
Finding a balance between new and old, between unknown and known, is often difficult. Being faced with the current rapidly changing conditions, I have realized once again that the key to staying focused and moving forward is to keep looking for this equilibrium.
How to be a cancer researcher in the time of coronavirus: Click here to read more articles from researchers in lockdown
About the author:
Klara is a research associate at the University of Lausanne, where she joined the group of Prof. Johanna Joyce in 2017. Her research focuses on the microenvironment of brain tumours, with a special interest in immune cells. She is passionate about science communication, especially to non-scientist audiences. Klara is an EACR Ambassador. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, and ResearchGate.