Six things to do while you can’t do anything else
Six things to do while you can’t do anything else
Coronavirus has changed life and work for virtually every person on the planet. With workplaces shutting down, diminished opportunities to socialise, and uncertainty about what’s to come, many are understandably at a loss for how to spend their days. This is particularly true for scientists—including those at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre—who saw experiments end abruptly when orders were issued to go into lockdown.
But science doesn’t stop just because our normal working lives do. It’s perhaps more important now than ever to keep the scientific conversation going. Here are six ways you can be sure science stays centre stage.
- Talk to the media. And not just about coronavirus. While news of the virus has dominated most major news outlets, it’s crucial that we don’t stop talking about other scientific breakthroughs and issues. In fact, this moment when the public are tuned into the news and wrapping their brains around minutiae of epidemiology may be a perfect time to introduce and explain new or challenging topics. Are you publishing a paper that deserves attention? Do you have research that can shine light on how we are responding to this crisis? Are you worried about the implications of crisis-time political decisions for future research? Reach out to a journalist or ask your press officer to help you do so. Or, if you don’t feel ready to talk to the media, see if your employer will sponsor you to get trained up online using a course like this one from SciDev.Net.
- Write a blog or op-ed. Do you have something to say that you don’t think can be captured in an interview? Write it yourself! This extended time of working in different conditions presents a perfect opportunity to keep your narrative skills sharp or to learn how to write for a new audience. Whether you’re contributing your own institution’s blog or pitching an op-ed to Project Syndicate or The Guardian, writing for a non-scientific audience can be a refreshing change of pace. Not sure how to write an opinion piece? The New York Times has published these helpful pointers.
- Gain perspective. Chances are you spend most of your time looking at things up close. Indeed, careful inspection is key to scientific discovery (why else would there be an entire line of scientific inquiry dedicated to making things appear larger than life?) But sometimes it’s good to zoom out. Whether it’s a complementary discipline whose findings you’ve been meaning to engage with or a seemingly unrelated pursuit that might set you on a new course, broadening your horizons could have knock-on effects on your work for years to come. Reach out to a colleague in another department, choose a journal at random from your library’s e-stacks, or go to a play from the comfort of your own living room.
- Reflect on your own work. What have you achieved in the past few months? Are you on track? Does your theory still fit your aims, and vice versa? Enforced time out of the lab is a perfect opportunity to take a fresh look at the thinking that underpins all of your work, assess your progress towards your stated aims, and even determine whether those aims are still appropriate. It can also be a great time to design new projects or make a plan to get to your next career stage. Whether you’re just starting to apply for PhD programmes or trying to push through a roadblock in your own lab, a little reassessment could go a long way.
- Learn something. How often have you found yourself wishing that things would just slow down enough that you could dedicate time to perfecting an old skill or acquiring a new one? Well, this is that time. Maybe you want to learn to code so you can get into the nitty gritty of your own analyses or perhaps you want to pick up that instrument you’ve been neglecting in the back of your closet. One thing we all have in spades right now is time, so you may as well make the most of it! Not sure where to start? The Telegraph has a roundup of the 10 best YouTube tutorials, ranging from clever smartphone hacks to learning Arabic.
- Teach something. The most important thing scientists do with the knowledge they discover is share it. With millions of people—adults and schoolchildren alike—stuck at home, there has never been a better time to share your knowledge, and with the blossoming of online social networks, it’s also never been easier. Whether it’s the first scientific idea you ever got excited about or the puzzle you’re trying to solve in your lab, chances are there’s someone out there right now who wants to know about it. Go live on Instagram or YouTube, host a party on Houseparty, design an infographic for your favourite social media site (psst: this is probably easier than you think, just be sure you have the optimal dimensions for your platform), or just talk to the people you’re on lockdown with.
There’s no doubt that Coronavirus is throwing unprecedented challenges at society and at science, but within those challenges lie tremendous opportunity. With the right attention, personal pursuits and professional ones alike can flourish during this time. Let’s go make the most of it.