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Grad School in the Time of Coronavirus

Empty Campus is Empty

This update is the third in a series of posts that we have written in light of the rapid progression of changes in Seattle to the response to COVID-19. As we are not experts on virology and epidemiology, please look for information about the disease from resources such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO.   


Phuong: On Monday of this week, Washington has been issued a shelter-in-place mandate. I’m not gonna lie, I saw it coming. Up to this point, I’ve been living the life of a hermit, self-isolating in my apartment, so this mandate didn’t change many aspects of my life. I’m living the life of my introverted dreams. That being said, I’ve taken steps to make sure I have some semblance of a social life (and also that my friends know I am still alive). Some of my girlfriends and I are watching reality TV on Netflix together every week, and I also have weekly lunches with other grad students in my rotation lab and friend group. I’m living with my partner, and we don’t hate each other...yet. Thankfully, there hasn’t been a time when I felt isolated or lonely during these two weeks of quarantine. Please, please check in with your friends and loved ones through this quarantine! I’m grateful to those who stay in touch with me and keep me grounded during these chaotic times. 

Movie night with friends turned pet night 🐶🐰🐱🐤

Ayumi: Like Phuong mentioned, we have been watching Netflix with other grad students in our cohort. We are watching Love is Blind, which is very cute, very funny, and quite dramatic. Sidenote: anyone else feel like it's not obvious who Nick Lachey is?

I've also joined a video chat Dungeons & Dragons group with some friends from Arizona. It's a good way to kill hours in the evening! I'm taking advantage of this considerable amount of time I have and calling my loved ones more often. I like to go for walks around my neighborhood and give someone a call.

My partner and I are enjoying all this time we have together. With our pre-SARS-CoV2 schedules, we were lucky if we saw each other for an hour or two in the evening during the work week. Now, it's like going to work with my best friend! We haven't driven each other crazy yet, although we did get into a heated debate about Star Wars canon.

I get a little stir crazy when I've been inside too much, so I am thankful that the stay-at-home order does not prevent me from taking solitary runs. It' important to keep up with hobbies if at all possible! I'm getting sick of my apartment, fast.

My favorite composer, Joe Hisaishi, was set to come to Seattle in April. He composed the film score for Studio Ghibli's greatest movies. I have been waiting to see this man perform live since before I was born! My mom loves those films, and passed that love on to her kids. I figured the concert would be cancelled, and it was. Luckily, it has been rescheduled to summer 2021! I tell myself I can wait another year to see him. It's been 23 years, I can wait one more. I'm still disappointed. In the grand scheme of things, cancelled concerts, graduation ceremonies, and sports events are insignificant. But it's okay to be bummed about missing them.


Phuong: The mandate has prompted UW to announce that only ‘essential’ labs are open. An ‘essential’ lab is any lab that is involved in coronavirus research, testing, or clinical care for at least 2 weeks. The chemical engineering and materials science departments at UW have effectively closed for the time being, and many other departments have followed suit. As it turns out my lab’s focus on developing nanotherapy targeting neurodegenerative disease, is not essential to coronavirus research. I’m very fortunate to be rotating in a lab whose members are working hard to onboard me despite, well, the fact that I’m an experimentalist with no lab to run experiments in. I talked to my PI and another graduate student whose project I will be working on earlier this week to set up a game plan for my rotation. They came up with a couple of ideas on remote training material for me which included GoPro tutorials and using real data obtained from recent experiments. We’ll see how these ideas play out over the course of the quarter.      

My weapon of choice!

Ayumi: My partner told me "How serendipitous that you go to grad school to research infectious disease and happen to move to the American epicenter of a pandemic." These are frightening times, but also quite intriguing for someone like me!

The NIH has release a few Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) opportunities for labs with active grants to research SARS-CoV2/COVID-19. PIs can submit what's called a competitive revision, which is a request for increased support as the lab expands the scope of a current project in response to the NOSI. My PI has submitted a competitive revision and we are waiting to hear back. I won't lie, I would love to get in on this research. While I am excited to study any infectious disease, virology has always been a favorite.


Phuong: School starts in a couple of days, so there isn’t much to report as of now. I have to admit I’ve tried to take a couple classes online in the past, but….I don’t know, I just couldn’t get into it. Sooooo who knows how online classes will turn out next quarter? On a positive note, maybe this is the push I needed to up my online learning game. You heard it here first, Helicuties. I have taken one exam last quarter online, and the only thing I can say is that I need to learn to type faster. Spring quarter is going to be interesting.

Ayumi: Honestly, I am pretending this online quarter is not happening. We'll see how that goes come Sunday.

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