by the CI Editorial Committee
Heading into the fifth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all continue to live with the reality of often having more questions than answers regarding a return to “business as usual.” While some aspects of distance working and learning have started to become familiar where practical to implement, there are several professions and fields of study that can’t totally transition to remote operation – life science research is one such example.
Much ink has been spent by a variety of authors on the dilemmas posed by the remote operating reality to those in higher education, particularly the sciences. For example, with courses moving online, how will students and professors engage in equipment-heavy lab work? Knowing the amount of collaboration involved, is it possible to replicate or at least adequately substitute the experience in a telework environment? Concerns extend beyond learning, teamwork, and efficacy, and hit the core component to funded research – grants – which impact student stipends and international students’ status relative to this work.
Fortunately, there has been some insight and assistance from the Council On Government Relations (COGR) and Johns Hopkins University which those in the lab sciences may find helpful in answering these questions. The sharing of this insight is indicative of a value that has been consistent across professions and fields of study during the pandemic – an openness and a willingness to share resources. This openness has also been demonstrated by the open access publication of COVID-19-related research protocol guidelines by Johns Hopkins University, which provides general, lab-based and clinical resources to staff, students and the public. Further, by taking a phased approach to human subject research, for example, the staff and students are able to collectively act in accordance with local health authorities, local IRB direction and the university while utilizing the limited in-person space available. In the Frequently Asked Questions document shared by COGR, topics such as secured access to datasets, federally funded grant payments, no-cost time extensions, and the implications of child-care on grant-funded salaries are also discussed.
Others in the life sciences have dealt with these issues by using their time working or studying remotely to catch up on other activities that don’t require a physical presence. They are taking this time to write literature reviews, organize data and lab notebooks, and prepare to teach online.
When the time comes to head back into the office, the classroom, or the lab (as the case may be), the need to engage in a collective effort to sustain open dialogue about these and other factors related to research in higher education will continue. As a community of learners, the strength of our generosity and ingenuity is needed now more than ever. This need also extends to those in the AEC industry – owners and users of classroom and lab space will undoubtedly need to take the lessons learned during the pandemic and apply them to the future layouts, equipping and construction of lab and classroom space. We at the Construction Institute would love to hear your thoughts on how the AEC industry can contribute to the conversation surrounding these issues as we all transition back to work and consider the “lab of the future.” We invite you to share your thoughts with us via our website to continue the conversation!