Adapting to a New Way of Doing Research During the Pandemic

A Jefferson graduate-student researcher describes navigating work shifts, prioritizing experiments, and finding time for self-care

As Philadelphia begins to slowly open the doors of businesses, stores, and institutions, there is a mix of emotions among those returning to work. Among them are scientists, who have had to find creative ways to conduct research when months of lockdown forced them away from their lab benches. Some labs work in shifts, delegate tasks, limit the use of common areas, and social distancing– all to ensure safety. While there is an eagerness to pursue scientific endeavors, like developing a coronavirus vaccine, finding better cancer treatments and understanding neurological disease, there is always fear of exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Grace McCarthy, a PhD candidate in Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, working on pancreatic cancer research, recently returned to the lab*. She takes us through the ups and downs of coming back to work during the pandemic, along with tips on how to maintain safety, and to balance productivity with self-care. Originally published as a twitter takeover of @ResearchAtJeff, follow along as she documents her “science comeback”!

*While the videos and photos below were taken at Jefferson, Grace is continuing her studies at Oregon Health & Science University.

Shift work makes the dream work! Half of the lab works the morning shift, and half of the lab works the evening shift, to minimize exposure.

Don’t forget to wear your mask and wash your hands!

And the lab is open! Some tips: Prop open the doors so that no one else will have to touch the door handles, reducing the risk of transmission.

I’ve missed my desk in the time that I’ve been away, and it looks like it missed me too! Sadly, we are not doing any computer work in lab in order to minimize the time we are physically here!

Because of the limited time in the lab, you really have to come in with a goal and a game-plan, and be efficient! The shifts allows you to be respectful of your lab mates’ time, and we’ve also rearranged the lab space so that we can social distance. It’s good to be back, but it does feel a bit strange to be so isolated – the lab looks like a ghost town!


Working part time in lab and part time from home has definitely taken a toll on my mental health. When I get home from lab, the day is only half done, but I am ready for a nap! Doing something active like a run helps me reset my focus. What do you do to keep focused?

Stay safe, and take care everyone!

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Science and Technology