Given the unprecedented situation with the Covid-19 outbreak, we have seen a new global reality unfold before our eyes. In response to this outbreak, many universities across the world have suspended all in-person classes, events and research operations and are in the process of transitioning to a remote work style.
Working remotely can pose new challenges for us as graduate students, especially those of us who do hands-on research activities in laboratories or fieldwork, all of which have essentially been put on pause for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, there are plenty of ways to stay scientifically productive during your time away from the lab, which may even be a delightful opportunity rather than a total drag!
One way you can utilize your time away from the lab is to read recent publications in your field of work to understand which problems have been solved and what challenges remained to be addressed. For context, every year, 2.5 million scientific papers are published! Keeping up to date with the latest developments in the literature is quite important in graduate studies but is something that may fade into the background while we are busy with conducting experiments. There are also plenty of helpful resources for tracking and reading publications online. If you are sufficiently familiar with the field of work, you can also use this opportunity to write a literature review on your subject for publication. Publishing a literature review is an excellent way to contribute to your field and to demonstrate your expertise. For tips on conducting a literature review, check the literature review guide prepared by University of Waterloo.
Another way to make the most of your time away from the lab is to plan ahead and increase productivity! Planning your next experimental design is an important factor in conducting efficient and well-thought research, which can also be done remotely. You can use this opportunity to set the objectives of your next experiment, determine the dependant and independent variables needed to be investigated and identify the materials and equipment required for completing each task. Here you can find a quick guide to a proper experimental design. If you have already acquired results from your prior experiments, use this time to analyze your data and prepare graphs/tables for your next article or your thesis.
This is also a good chance to prepare your application and apply for research grants, fellowships or awards to secure funding for your research and to master the skill of grant writing. The Writing and Communication Center at University of Waterloo has online and virtual services available to help you with writing proposals. You can also use the University of Waterloo Database to learn about the available internal awards or surf the internet to find relevant external awards.
Last but not least, don’t forget to take a break, exercise and virtually socialize with your friends and family!
Kiana Amini is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering at University of Waterloo. Her research focuses on the development of energy storage devices, particularly electrochemical systems called redox flow batteries. She is also the founder and president of the University of Waterloo Electrochemical Society Student Chapter (WatECS). Follow Kiana on LinkedIn.