A Scary Truth about Academic Research after COVID

It can be difficult for students to admit that they are struggling. There is a certain taboo to admitting research is hard or that you are going to take longer than 5 years to complete your dissertation. The world we are returning to post-COVID has just made that harder for everyone.

A recent article in Nature highlighted the struggle for some people to return to their PhD work after the shutdown. This article encourages PhD students considering quitting their studies to ask 3 important questions: 1) Are your problems solvable? 2) Have you talked to your mentor or an adviser about your dilemma? 3) Where does obtaining your PhD fit into your long-term goals?

These are three very important questions to answer at this point in time. Funding in the public sector is tighter than ever and hiring freezes have put many PhD candidates plans on hold. I encourage everyone here to read this article and ask yourself those questions. Make sure you are able to accomplish your goals and that you are not compromising your education in these challenging times. There is no shame in taking some time off and trying to find a job in the private sector.

STEM fields are still leading the way in the job industry and the skills you have can never be replaced or neglected. Keep working hard and make sure you never lose sight of your goals.

ASIP VIRTUAL HANGOUT FOR TRAINEE MEMBERS

Stay tuned for information about another ASIP Trainee Virtual Hangout! This one is going to be different! Bring your cooking skills to our first virtual potluck! Be on the lookout for more information later this month!

EDUCATION COMMITTEE ANNOUNCEMENTS

PISA 2020 is going virtual! Stay tuned for updates on PISA 2020 at https://pisa20.asip.org/

Interested in becoming a member of ASIP? Contact me at sougiann@musc.edu  www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-sougiannis

Virtual Conferences: How will conferencing change after COVID?

Many of us were getting ready for spring conference season when COVID hit. Now, however, we need to look to the future of conferencing and consider what will change when it comes to conferencing post COVID.

Will anything Change?

My answer to this… absolutely not. I think people will be so anxious to get outside they will sprint to the nearest opportunity to leave the lab. Conferencing is the most essential opportunity for trainees to showcase their research and meet with potential advisers. The scientific community will continue to conference regularly after COVID and I do not think much will change in the end. However, we have to consider that our travel internationally might be hindered for the next 2-5 years. So how do we respond to this?

Virtual Reality Conferences?

With virtual reality starting to take flight we have to entertain the option of hosting virtual conferences. Imagine waking up from home, eating your Wheaties, and then putting on your VR glasses to transport yourself to EB2022? Its not very different from what we are currently doing in this period of virtual meetings. Sitting in on a talk would be easy, but what about poster sessions? It is hard to hop posters via zoom, but a virtual conference hall could solve this problem. All of this technology exists and we have the ability to generate this kind of platform.

A recent article in Nature discussed how conference platforms have been adapting since COVID. This article does an excellent job discussing how the lack of intimacy that comes with this kind of platform can remove the purpose of conferences. I agree. Physical face-to-face contact goes so much further than anything technology can offer. A VR conference would completely remove that intimate interaction and make interactions awkward. Can you imagine walking up to an animated version of me and listen to me talk about colorectal cancer in mice…?

VR conferences are a great way to keep us rolling as a scientific community as we crawl out of this crisis. However, we cannot ignore the most essential feature that makes us human, and that is the ability to intimately interact with one another. Lets do what we can for now but not compromise our values when it comes to returning back to normal. We cannot get too comfortable conferencing from home that we forget why we do this in the beginning.

Have you attended any virtual conferences since COVID? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Interested in contributing original content to the ASIP blog? Contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu to get involved!

ASIP VIRTUAL HANGOUT FOR TRAINEE MEMBERS

The ASIP is hosting another free virtual hangout for trainee and junior members June 11th at 4P.M. EST. The goal of this virtual hangout is to bring scientists together to share their stories about life during COVID and the obstacles they have had to overcome. We are hosting another because our first session was a great success. If you are interested please register by clicking the link below: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0lcumpqjosGt0flIahGyElyHNgi3Ucmcmt

EDUCATION COMMITTEE ANNOUNCEMENTS

PISA 2020 is still being planned! Join your fellow ASIP members at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Boston November 7-9, 2020. Get news and updates at https://pisa20.asip.org/

Interested in becoming a member of ASIP? Contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu  www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-sougiannis

Post COVID-19 world: Is STEM academia in trouble?

Class of 2020, how does it feel? No giant ceremony, no group photos, and worst of all no family. Thousands of students from high school through professional degree programs graduated the Class of 2020 this past weekend. This year is definitely unique, but the Spring 2020 semester is likely going to set the stage for a major change in the dynamic of education for the foreseeable future.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the ease and applicability of virtual education. Suddenly instructors were able to sit from the comfort of their home or office and perform the same job they had been doing all along. So, what does this mean for post-pandemic academia? A recent article published on insidehighered.com brought to light the potential of asynchronous (Canvas, Blackboard-type) and synchronous (Zoom-type) platforms that are being brought together to eliminate the need for face-to-face learning.

But is this what we need? We are already falling behind the curve in most subjects as an American nation. At the medical school level, we already face this reality, with most medical students skipping class to spend extra time studying and just reviewing the lecture online at their leisure.

I think we can take this opportunity to create a large paradigm shift in education that has been long overdue.

Is a virtual world a bad one for scientists?

I am all for bringing more technology and virtual instruction into the classroom and I think it would be a great use of resources. However, we cannot use this as an excuse to get lazy with our teaching methods. Now I am not going to comment on some liberal arts fields, but a world without labs or actual hands-on instruction could put us into a worse position. If we are going to go to a virtual instruction paradigm, we need to compensate with more hands-on education and application of materials.

I remember not understanding anything from organic chemistry lecture and then stepping into lab that week and having everything click in my mind. I always tell my students that they can know the whole process of an experiment (i.e. western blotting) and it won’t mean anything unless they go through the pain-staking process of failing and learning the process with their hands. My point being, we cannot condemn students to a virtual ‘education’ when real work is done in the lab after years of learning and perfecting your techniques.

How can science benefit from a paradigm change?

I have had this conversation many times, but I remember one distinct debate at a recent conference where we discussed the potential for obtaining doctoral level degrees outside of academia. Imagine getting a degree through a company like Pfizer or Eli Lilly? Take your courses virtually while learning your basic biotechnology techniques and then jump into your ‘internship’ where you learn from experts in the field and you are part of a research team. The link between the private sector and academia could benefit from this kind of scenario, bringing big $$$ to academia while standardizing the training of scientists.

What is certain is that we are going to see major changes in academia as a result of this crisis. We are already seeing some funding cuts and unfavorable changes to our lifestyles as scientists. We need to come out of this crisis stronger and advocating for more responsibility in our education system, not an excuse to push learning to a lazier platform.

What do you think? Are you starting to see changes you like? or don’t like? What would you like to see happen in academia as result of the COVID-19 shutdown? Share in the comments below!

Interested in contributing original content to the ASIP blog? Contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu to get involved!

ASIP Virtual Hangout for Trainee Members

The ASIP is hosting a free virtual hangout for trainee and junior members. The goal of this virtual hangout is to bring together scientists to share their stories about life during COVID and the obstacles they have had to overcome. The first session is currently being organized and will be announced once we have a firm date. If you are interested in registering, please send an email to wbcoleman@asip.org.

EDUCATION COMMITTEE ANNOUNCEMENTS

PISA 2020 is still happening! Join your fellow ASIP members at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Boston November 7-9, 2020. https://pisa20.asip.org/

Interested in becoming a member of ASIP? Contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu  www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-sougiannis