While my lab blog is usually reserved for science, I’ve been having conversations with colleagues about how we’re managing our labs during these uncertain times and I think there are a few things that are useful to share.
The thing I’ve been sharing with folks in my lab is that there are three buckets into which everything in your life fits at this point:
I typically start my lab meeting with a round-robin where everyone reports their accomplishments from the prior week and priorities for the current week. We start our virtual lab meetings with a round-robin with stating how each person is doing and by naming one “exhilarating” thing that each person has done in the past week. It is pretty entertaining to hear what counts as exhilarating these days. We’ve also added a weekly virtual lab social. It is unstructured and a “show up if you want” event. I’ve also added 30 minute weekly meetings for everyone in my lab. This has been especially important because without being on campus there isn’t the opportunity for impromptu chances to talk about our research.
The final thing that I’ve learned through these past few weeks is that it is my job to make sure that people don’t get stressed out over their drop in productivity. Productivity is going to vary and you’ll have good days and bad. This gets back to bucket 3. You cannot control, on any given day, whether you’ll have the focus to be productive. Take it as it comes.
Additional advice for students and postdocs
Do not expect that if you’re having a tough time with something that your advisor will pick-up on it. Be upfront with what is going on. We’re all dealing with a whole bunch of stuff that wasn’t a concern before the pandemic started.
Be a source of support for your lab-mates. Each individual’s ability to deal with all that is going on will ebb and flow. Check-in with your lab mates regularly. If you think of something your advisor can do to facilitate you engaging with each other, let them know.
When you’re having a period where you can’t focus on your work, don’t force it. Take a walk, do something else in bucket 1, do something to help someone else, sit on the couch and devour a pint of ice cream while binging on some show… You get the point. There are going to be things that you stress over (e.g. data collection, etc) that you don’t have control over and belong in bucket 3. Leave them in bucket 3 because it is not worth playing out the potential scenarios when there are too many variables that are rapidly changing. You can rest assured that there will be plenty of time to figure out that stuff out when we have better information.
We’re all having to make decisions with imperfect information. There will be fallout from some of those decisions that we’ll have to deal with at a later date. Right now, that fallout belongs in bucket 3. I’ve had to make some decisions that are likely to cause problems for me down the road and I don’t care. I’m making the best decisions I can with the information I have available. When this is all over, all that matters to me is that I did the best job that I could to take care of the folks in my lab and that we as a group did the best we could, given the circumstances.