Working from home can be very challenging, particularly if your work normally takes place in a lab. We were fortunate to have six cell culture researchers, who are part of Gibco’s Cell Culture Heroes program, share their experiences and best practices for being productive, staying connected, and keeping a healthy outlook while out of the lab.
- Kristine M Wadosky, PhD
Research Affiliate, Postdoctoral, Roswell Park Cancer Institute
- Ameet Chimote, PhD
Research Associate, University of Cincinnati, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Nephrology, Cincinnati OH
- Elizabeth Delery, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow Department of Physiology, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center
- Daisy Shu, B.Optom, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School
- Vivek Kamat, PhD
Post Doctoral Associate, Florida International University
- Sandra Hammer, PhD
Research Fellow, Michigan State University
Schedule routine communication and information sharing to stay connected with research while out of the lab
Panel members agreed that regular communication was critical to continuing research while working from home. They provided suggestions for what is working best for them.
- A combination of group meetings and one-on-one meetings permits a view of the big picture of research while still providing the opportunity for deeper conversations around specific topics. Most of the experts were holding team meetings every two weeks with weekly one-on-one meetings between supervisors and their employees.
- A departmental seminar series is also a great way to present current research and permits seminar participants to ask questions and share related research papers in real time. Another benefit was that it lowered the barrier of intimidation around asking questions. One panel member found that people who normally don’t ask many questions were participating at higher levels online than in person.
- To make sure that everyone feels connected and part of the team, one panel member shared his team’s approach. They assign every member of the team a task that they then report on at the next meeting. This way everyone has something to share and contribute during weekly team meetings.
Have a plan for caring for cells and animal models during this time
In some instances, lab work can be geared down; cell lines frozen and researchers can put work on hold while sheltering in place. However, some lab work is considered essential because the cell lines or models have been developed over several years and it simply can’t be shut down without losing years of progress. For instance, animal models and some cell models can’t be frozen down so they must be maintained. It is critical to manage appropriate care while still maintaining social distance. Panel members shared their experiences for managing essential lab work.
- Prepare the lab for minimal activity.
- If you don’t have one already, appoint a lab manager to handle assigning tasks and scheduling.
- Have researchers scheduled to come in at different times, so they don’t overlap.
- Do as much work from home as possible, such as analyzing images and data, anything that doesn’t require you to be physically present in the lab.
Balance work and home life to maintaining positive outlook
Panel members were unanimous in stressing the importance of finding a work/life balance in this challenging time. Many shared their personal struggle in their trial and error search for what works for them. While finding the right approach for you is a highly personal endeavor, panel members shared what has worked best for them, in the hope that it will resonate with others trying to achieve this balance.
- Have a routine to get up at the same time, eat lunch at the same time, schedule breaks, and try to mimic your normal day as much as possible.
- That said, don’t be too rigid with your schedule, realize distractions will come up that can’t be avoided.
- Set limits on your distracted time (i.e. don’t get lost for an hour reading the latest news stories). Allow yourself some distracted time, but set a timer so you know exactly how much time you are spending.
- Mix in time for exercise, sunlight, and fresh air.
- If you are really missing the lab, try Gibco’s virtual lab for a fun way to learn something new.
- One of the biggest challenges of working from home is that the line between work and home get blurred. This can hurt motivation as it can make you feel that work has no beginning or end, just a constant presence. To address this, it is best to have a dedicated workspace if possible. The transition from the rest of your home to one work area can be very helpful in putting you in the right frame of mind for work. The same is true for leaving this space when work is over and allowing yourself time to relax and recharge.
- It is ok to be sad and miss people. Look for ways to stay connected outside work with virtual socializing – try virtual happy hours, dinner parties, and game nights to connect with family and friends.
- Laughter is the best medicine. Find a “go to” 30 minute sitcom that you love for the times when you need to take a break and laugh.
- Take up a hobby. One panel member shared her new love of bird watching, something that she never would have noticed without having this time at home.
Stay flexible when working from home with children
Balancing work and home life can be even more challenging when you have children to care for and educate. It can feel like an uphill battle and often feels overwhelming. Again, this is a trial and error process that is often unique to families, but panel members provided tips for what is working for them.
- Realize your normal 9-5 work day is probably unattainable and accept it.
- Be intentional with your work time. Block off time for meetings when you know that your children will be busy with other activities and you won’t be disturbed.
- Respond to emails and other lighter work when kids are engaged in activities where you know that you may get interrupted.
- Plan highly cognitive work, like researching and writing, for times when your children are sure to be otherwise engaged – like after they are asleep.
- Accept that some days you’ll get more done and others less. Take a weekly view of your daily responsibilities and take comfort that it will work itself out.
Keep productivity high by staying motivated and in a rhythm
This may be one of the most challenging areas while sheltering in place. It is easy to become unmotivated, out of sync, and even feeling a bit untethered, but these are all productivity killers. Panel members had suggestions about what helps them get and stay motivated.
- Make a checklist of attainable goals, even if one of them is something as simple as making your bed. The act of checking things off your list gives you little wins and makes you feel as though you can accomplish bigger tasks.
- While much work is being put on hold at the moment, planning for future work can feel very satisfying. Make a list of experiments that you plan to do when you return to the lab and design them trying to think through every aspect.
- Review and analyze unpublished data to see if there is a manuscript there, and if so, outline it. For papers in process, it is a good time to draft introductions, work on graphs, and write the materials and methods sections; all the things that normally get done at the end of a paper.
- Spruce up presentations; improve graphs and figures for work in process.
Focus on the positives about from working at home – more time!
Another unanimous point from panel members is that there are definitely positives about working from home and focusing on these have led to a great deal of productivity and a sense of achievement. Panel members shared some of the things that they enjoy about working from home, with a majority of them saying they had more time. Time to:
- Focus on work that was previously viewed as lower priority compared to benchwork.
- Read and write without feeling guilty for not being in the lab.
- Review data, looking for deficient areas that need more study and planning research to fill in these gaps.
- Catch up on reading journal articles that always get put on the back burner.
- Educate yourself in areas of interest by watching webinars and learning new skills. Check out the Cell Culture Heroes webinar series.
- Spend quality time with friends and family.
PhD candidates should stay engaged while waiting to get back in the lab
Now is a great time for PhD students and undergraduates to develop new skills and start new connections. Possibilities include:
- Utilize online resources to develop new skill sets.
- Join scientific organizations to find out about future internships, travel grants, etc.
- Work on scientific writing, graphic presentations, and statistical tools.
- Attend workshops on intellectual property and patent information to learn more about ways to commercialize your research.
- Speak with mentor about writing a review article that could become the introduction to your thesis.
- Study grant writing, go to NSF.gov and Grants.gov to learn about the requirements for grants and helpful templates.
To learn more about the Gibco Cell Culture Heroes program, please see Cell Culture Heroes
To learn more from experts on how researchers are working from home, please visit “Gibco Cell Culture Heroes: Work From Home Edition”
Stay connected to science while you’re away from the lab with this educational resource hub: Connect2Science
Getting ready to return to the lab? Access guides, custom services and technical support to Make Your Comeback