COVID-19 and Staying Sane

We are living in an insane time. Within the past month, a lot of the world has been put on lockdown, toilet paper is a rare commodity for some reason, and a new virus is sweeping across the world. For many researchers such as myself, this pandemic has shut down a huge portion of our lives since labs are no longer open. Terrifyingly enough, we now have to get used to doing all our work cooped up in our homes. 

When working at home, it’s extremely easy to beat yourself up for not being as driven or productive as you would like, but here is the most important thing for you to remember: NO ONE IS EXPECTING YOU TO BE AS PRODUCTIVE AS YOU WERE BEFORE. This pandemic is unprecedented, and it is causing everyone’s lives to go haywire. Adjusting to such big changes is hard, and it’s unreasonable for anyone to expect you to maintain the same level of productivity during these crazy times. 

For many researchers, lab work is a huge portion of time that is suddenly gone. At least for me, filling the hole that the lack of research has left has been challenging. However, there are still plenty of opportunities to keep working and building research skills while social distancing. Here are a couple of things: 

  1. Learn a new programming language. Codeacademy is giving away Pro memberships to the first 10,000 people to sign up with a .edu email address because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Codeacademy is meant for absolute beginners, it does provide a good jumping-off point into further work with programming. Aside from Codeacademy, Datacamp has courses in data analysis languages as well, covering Python, R, Command-Line, and more. 
  2. Brush up on your bioinformatics. There are some really great resources available online tutorials and example datasets to practice on. Bioconductor, for instance, has a huge list of online resources and example data sets to practice using R as a biologist. There are also many tutorials online for using the command-line in bioinformatics, one of which can be found here
  3. Use your social media as a scientist. Now more than ever, Twitter is the perfect place to read about the newest advances in science and jump in on the discussion as well. Even on topics unrelated to COVID-19, scientific discussion is thriving now more than ever. 
  4. Work on your writing skills. While this is probably obvious to any researcher, I still feel like I should mention this. Take this time to write a new review, finally write that Materials and Methods section, or just finish up anything that might be waiting on your to-do list. 
  5. Find out more about something random that interests you by reading a bunch of literature. Whether this is just catching up on a huge backlog of papers you need to get around to reading, or diving headfirst into a completely new field, 

But what can you do outside of work to stay sane? One great thing you can do to fill this new time is to find a new hobby! Baking bread is weirdly popular now, with my coworkers sharing recipes and pictures of the masterpieces they made (if you’re looking for a neat recipe, check out this one). If you’re also looking to contribute to stopping the spread of COVID-19, you could do something simple like sewing face masks as well.

One of the most important things you have to do during this time is to take mental health days. This could be as simple as just taking one day a week to not think about work and focus on relaxing. These breaks can go a long way in reminding you that work doesn’t control your life, even though it might seem like that now more than ever. 

This is a difficult time for everyone, and learning how to adapt to a life without physical work is extremely challenging. By taking small steps, we can all learn to adapt and come out of this pandemic as stronger researchers.

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