#FEMSmicroBlog: Resilience during COVID-19, an Early Career Scientist's perspective

09-05-2020

Home confinement brings specific challenges to scientists who during this COVID-19 crisis are now unable to access the laboratory. But these times are also an occasion to strengthen those traits which help researchers (and early career scientists in particular) to advance their career, including cooperation with the community and sharing common goods. By drawing a parallel with biofilm formation, Dr Beatriz Baselga Cervera shows how scientists can be resilient in times of quarantine while also deploying their unique skills. #QuarantineDiary

This is not the first pandemic humanity has faced. Nevertheless, it is probably your first encounter with one. As early career scientists, the timing could not be worse! Just in the middle of that experiment, just before your dissertation defense, a few months into your new postdoc, just when you finally got a travel grant…

This situation challenges our ability to find adaptive behaviors to cope with the situation and to increase our (professional) fitness: as our favorite bugs do against adverse environments.

Let’s revise some of these behavioral pathways.

You can be and feel part of the community even if at the moment it is not possible to attend conferences (in the picture: scientists mingling at coffee break and poster session at FEMS2019 the past July in Glasgow, Scotland).

Quorum sensing

Be part of the community. It doesn’t matter if you are social or less social, how many hobbies you have, or if you are an outdoors person; you are probably trapped at home. And your peers and loved ones need to know from you, they need to sense you. Technology is there to help! Beside remaining connected with your colleagues, friends and family, you could use that extra time removing the dust of your twitter and social networks accounts to detect and respond to the community.

You could start by following Twitter accounts from and for the microbiology community, like @FEMSmicro, @ASMicrobiology, @SfAMtweets, @MicrobioSoc, @SEMicrobiologia, @SmallWorldInitiative, etc. The preferred way for researchers to network and meet (new) colleagues has always been attending conferences, which is currently impossible due to travel restrictions. As there are now enough people (forcibly) sitting at home, so are many conferences, research symposia, webinars, etc. happening online.

(Left) Virtual Undergrad Research symposium at the University of Minnesota, where the author of this blog is currently a Postdoc. (Right) The Young Microbiologists Symposium (26-27 August 2020) is transitioning online this year.

Biofilm formation

Find (new) ways to cooperate. Doubtless, your email inbox is even more crowded than usual. You have the opportunity of attachment and matrix formation towards a cooperative lifestyle. There have been numerous examples on how the microbiology community reacted and collaborated to face the crisis, like for example the Crowdfight COVID-19 Initiative, where scientists (include those who are not experts on coronaviruses) can pull together to stand against this crisis.

Crowdfight Covid-19 initiative. The motivation behind the project is to put the wider scientific community at the service of COVID-19 research.

‘Ask a Scientist’ is an initiative developed by the Federation of American Scientists,  in collaboration with the New Jersey Office of Innovation and the Governance Lab at New York University, to provide a service to the public. The project consists of a platform in which people can ask questions related to COVID-19, and volunteer scientists answer them. Currently, there is an open call for volunteers.

EndCoronavirus.org is another volunteering opportunity where scientists, engineers, medical doctors, and motivated individuals can contribute, consisting of multiple projects with a shared goal: stop the spread of COVID-19. The aim is to consult governments, institutions, and individuals, to provide useful data and guidelines, and to ‘crush’ (rather than ‘flatten’) the COVID-19 curve.

Public goods

Contribute to microbiology literacy with your knowledge. Sometimes we feel a bit like cheaters when we decline that manuscript revision. Now that labs almost everywhere are closed, researchers might have more time for writing, reviewing and submitting papers and grant applications. As microbiologist, you might have been asked a lot of COVID-19 questions. Now it is a good moment to use those non-laboratory related skills and increase your potential for outreach.

A way to contribute is by means of scientific outreach with lay entries accessible to the public (including to this very #FEMSmicroBlog!). This is also a great opportunity for non-native English speakers to make the latest research accessible to your linguistic community, for example by contributing to pen blog entries.

Estornuda.me page, sharing scientific achievements related to COVID-19 to the Spanish-speaking community, in which the author of this blog entry is involved. A team of scientists curates and validates posts.

Enhanced (professional) traits

Acquire new skills. Now that conferences are canceled or postponed, and job calls halted, you must prepare to what is coming ahead. While joining collective behaviors, you can improve your professional phenotype by shaking off the rust (or building de novo): a profile page, ORCID account, ResearchGate and LinkedIn profiles… as well as signing up for online courses useful for your future career as for example programming or scientific writing.

About the author of this blog

Beatriz Baselga Cervera is from Madrid, Spain. She received her graduate degree in Veterinary medicine at the Complutense University of Madrid. Beatriz has a Ph.D. at the Complutense University involved on ecology, evolution, and behavior of water microbiology and biotechnological applications. Currently, she is Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Minnesota working in the evolutionary transition towards multicellularity with yeasts. When she is not experimenting with bugs in the lab, she is involved with several outreach activities, including as volunteer for FEMS. She is an advocate for bringing science closer to society.

About this blog section

In #QuarantineDiary for the #FEMSmicroBlog, microbiologists tell about the challenges and opportunities from a personal and professional (development) perspective during the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. These can range from a list of useful resources to keep learning, to how researchers can offer their help.

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