Research Continues Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Social distancing is easy when you do field research. Katie Laplante talks about how she’s adjusting her work because of COVID-19.

            University administrators around Missouri have difficult decisions to make on what a return to campus life might look like amid a worldwide disease outbreak. The University of Missouri is working on a plan to have undergraduates back on campus sooner, so Fall classes can finish up before a possible second wave of COVID-19 cases in the Winter. Missouri State is consulting public health experts on a plan to return to campus. And Washington University in St. Louis is considering technology-driven alternative instructional methods and requiring face masks on campus.

           With research institutions gearing up for a return to campus, it’s a great time to check in with researchers around Missouri and find out what their experience has been like during the COVID-19 pandemic. Katie Laplante is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Missouri. Her work is to understand better how milkweed plant species affect monarch butterflies here in the Midwest. Katie says she’s lucky; her research isn’t in a lab setting.

Katie Laplante wears a mask at Mizzou’s South Farm Research Center to combat the spread of COVID-19.

           “I am primarily outside at South Farm Research Center collecting data and maintaining my research plots.” Says Katie. “I work with a couple of technicians and a research specialist. Since we are outside and can maintain adequate spacing (social distancing), we do not have to wear masks full time. When we are inside of the greenhouse or other buildings, however, we do wear facemasks, unless we are working alone.”

            Researching from home can be a big change when you’re used to working on campus. Just ask Abigail Aderonmu. Abigail is a UMKC Ph.D. candidate studying science and policy within and climate change. She explains how her college is staggering a return to school in three phases.

No work desk, no problem! Your coffee table makes a great space to get things done during a pandemic. Abigail Aderonmu shows us the work she’s doing at UMKC.

            “The first phase involves a small group of employees with critical operational duties; the second phase will have senior administrative and department heads return, and the final phase will be everyone else.” Said Abigail. “I haven’t had access to campus yet. But communication from school shows that social distancing measures will be put in place when we all get to go back.” Abigail explains that she may not be able to get back to campus until August.

            Back in St. Louis, researchers at Washington University are only allowed to work at 30% capacity. “…So this requires us to carefully coordinate schedules, and it really limits the scope and the type of experiments we can run right now.” Explains Hannah Frye.

            “I have been using this time to do a lot of microscopy work for my projects. Since our microscopes are typically located in separate rooms or in well-partitioned core facilities, I am able to maintain social distancing requirements fairly easily.”

            Frye is a Ph.D. candidate at Washington University. Her work focuses on the opioid epidemic in the U.S. “When we do check into work, we have to pass through screening stations located throughout the Washington University School of Medicine campus to verify that we do not exhibit COVID-19 related symptoms, that we have not been knowingly exposed to the virus, and that our temperatures are within normal ranges. Masks are required everywhere on campus, and we are required to maintain social distancing at 10 feet.”

           “I am continuing to do much of my work at home. Over quarantine and during this time of reduced lab access, I submitted a manuscript for peer-review, I am learning a new coding language, analyzing data, assembling figures for future manuscripts, and planning future experiments. It has been a challenge to keep up with it all while navigating the “new normal” in my own life, but I am excited to start slowly ramping up my experiments in the lab.” Hanna said.

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