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

Grab a shovel: How the over 65K published articles on COVID can teach us to be better scientists.

On July 23rd 2020 there were a reported total 66,883 peer reviewed open access articles on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. That does not include the 19,420 preprints that have also been reported. So let’s say we are at over 85K publications about COVID-19 in 2020. I don’t know about you, but that sounds out of control to me! Amongst all the wonderful data that I am sure is out there, we have to reconsider what is actually going on here.

An article published on the site retractionwatch.com has listed 25 retracted and 3 temporarily retracted articles on COVID-19.

I think this shines a light on a larger problem that is plaguing the scientific community, we are seeing the same thing in politics. It is not enough to be right, you just need to be first. If you read scientific literature you risk being misinformed, but if you don’t read and do your research then you are uninformed. So where do we find ourselves?

I was drawn to a particular article published in Nature Molecular and Cellular Immunology entitled SARS-CoV-2 infects T lymphocytes through its spike protein-mediated membrane fusion. This paper was accepted in 3 days! 3 days! It was retracted 3 months later because the investigators used a T-cell line instead of primary T-cells. What is worse is that this paper was accessed 225 thousand times and cited 38 times between its publication date on April 7, 2020 and its retraction date on July 10, 2020.

Now during a pandemic such as this we need to get information out as quickly as we get it but there has to be some kind of professional courtesy and accountability, especially at this level of publication. Haven’t we already learned our lesson about this with the twists and false reports about how vaccines cause autism? As for the paper mentioned above, it is entirely possible that the mechanism is conserved between the cell line and the primary cells, but we do not get to make that assumption, not now, not ever! As scientists we are responsible for creating the next generation of treatments, the health in the world is in our hands.

Let us learn one more lesson from COVID and remind ourselves that our work is not just about getting tenure or winning a grant, we are the experts in science and medicine and have a professional responsibility to the people. Our work can directly influence treatment plans and the healthcare of the people and we need to consider what we publish and how we publish it. Lets take that extra step and make sure we keep a high standard of scientific rigor and responsibility.

Interested in contributing original content to the ASIP blog? Contact me at sougiann@musc.edu to get involved!

ASIP VIRTUAL HANGOUT FOR TRAINEE MEMBERS

The ASIP is hosting another free virtual hangout for trainee and junior members July 30th at 6P.M. EST. We will be discussing writing training grants during COVID and maximizing your ability to get funding. If you are interested please register by clicking the link below: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0vf-upqzwoGNdqWQv7cEe4h8b7rYTn0Cgl

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

Data Management of the Future: Electronic Lab Notebooks.

Are you prepping your virtual classrooms this week? What about lab meetings? Virtual meetings such as Zoom allow for communicating across the globe, but what about data sharing? In the era of big data generation and management it is getting harder to simply share an Excel file with a simple data set. Large high quality TIFF images, large data sets, complicated analyses, all contribute to potentially poor data management for labs and make it difficult to share data files by conventional methods. Enter Electronic Lab Notebooks or ELNs.

Electronic Notebooks have been around for a few years but have recently enetered the spotlight as preferred alternatives to paper experimental recordings. I remember during my master’s in 2013-2015 I used a paper notebook, it was manageable with only a few projects going on at that point. But in the big leagues of PhD life, electronic notebooks have saved my life. I use the electronic notebook SciNote. I chose this notebook because it was easy to use and was the only notebook I found that had Microsoft Office integrated into its interface. After 4 years I must stay that using an electronic notebook has greatly improved my organization of the multiple collaborations I am on and has allowed me to easily share, store, and access all my #hotdata from anywhere in the world.

I must say that I have pushed the use of electronic notebooks on many labs since starting with my own. For small labs of 3-5 researchers to large labs of 20/30+ it really can make your life so much easier. Uploading of raw data makes sure that nothing can be lost in the event of electronic disaster. I take this a little further and backup my data to an external hard drive, my electronic notebook, and my personal laptop……I like data.

In reality there are many electronic notebooks out there. Recently, the LabsExplorer published an article discussing the benefits of electronic notebooks and reviewed the top electronic notebooks on the market. I will say that there are a plethora of electronic notebooks out there but if you understand what your priorities are then it can be easy to select what is best for you. Many electronic notebooks also function as a lab management tool and can be used to sort inventory and keep track of purchases.

The electronic notebook era has received a lot of press and has even been featured in a 2018 Nature article. If you are thinking to start using electronic lab notebooks I highly recommend it. It is not an easy transition but once you make that committment it will make your life so much easier. I have a tablet that I use in the lab and everything is at the touch of my finger and there is no doubt that my data is always organized and safely stored. If you’re not sure about which notebook to use, give them a trial. Most notebooks are free for small groups (3 users) and therefore you can trial using these notebooks before purchasing one for your lab.

Do you already use an electronic notebook in your lab? Please share which one you use and what you like the most about it!

ASIP 2020 ANNUAL MEETING AT EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY IN SAN DIEGO APRIL 4-7 CANCELLED!

If you have not already heard the news, Experimental Biology 2020 has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. If you need more information or want to discuss further options about your science presentations please feel free to contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu. For official statements from the ASIP please visit https://www.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