Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Lina Gosh

Wet lab scientists have been virtually out of work for the past four weeks due to statewide lab closures in Massachusetts. As an undergraduate researcher in a bench science lab, which runs exclusively on tangible experiments, almost all of my lab-associated responsibilities have been slashed. Thankfully, I brought home some raw data from the lab to analyze and quantify remotely, so there is still scope for me to contribute to the advancement of science, though it may be short-lasting. Other members of the lab have focused their energies into writing, reading, and spending time with family. For the senior members in the lab, each person is assigned one day of the week to go into lab in order to take care of mouse breeding in the animal care facilities. 

The lab attempts to maintain scientific rigor through weekly journal club sessions during which post-doctoral fellows and technicians in the lab present findings from a select article. Often, we invite the first and last authors of the paper to join us on the Zoom call and answer questions or elaborate on the stories they have published. All lab members are also encouraged to attend free seminars through the Broad Institute that are topical to our area of interest.

One significant change to my future plans as a student researcher has been the recent cancellations of summer programs (ie. PRISE, Herchel-Smith, Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program, AMGEN Scholars etc.). While the programs are still providing funding to students and encouraging remote work, the requirements and proposed nature of the research experiences are very different. Students are expected to devote 25 hours a week to remote research, are not allowed to come to campus even if labs open by the summertime, are asked to propose new experiments that are feasible to do at home, and are permitted to take an online class (which wouldn’t have been the case if we were on campus physically). While these policies extend to many types of research, as the entire summer research village has been shut down, I think life sciences and engineering researchers who work in wet labs are especially affected, as most other research like data science, computer science, humanities literature reviews, or social science ethnography can be easily reformatted to the online format. A major concern for me as well as other rising seniors concentrating in the life sciences is the prospect of not having enough content to write a senior thesis since the bulk of data is collected over the summer.

On a more personal note, I think it has been difficult for me to accept these changes and attempt to mold my role as a student researcher to the current times. Instead of adapting, I have very much hit pause, and as a result, it has made me feel even more disconnected from my lab work. I have found through my class project, which was composed of a survey to student researchers and interviews with principal investigators, that my sentiments of frustration and detachment are not unique and that reading and finding other ways to engage in science may help revive the scientific “spark” in me once again.

Rather than dragging out any possible remote work I have now in fear of the possibility that lab work will eventually run out, I think it is probably best for me to regain some drive by setting deadlines for myself for remote analysis and quantification and then setting myself up with the expectation that we will find creative ways of progressing our projects without physical experiments or that lulls in work may offer opportunities for me to increase my background knowledge on my research topic and start writing the introductory parts of my thesis. I have shied away from speaking to my mentor, as I have been embarrassed about the lack of effort and engagement on my part in terms of lab matters and I imagine that I am not a priority in their eyes, but I think it is time to reestablish a regular line of communication between us to discuss what these life changes mean for our projects.


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