Adjusting to life in isolation
As COVID-19 spreads across the world, members of the GSA community have had to face unprecedented challenges in their professional and personal lives. To stay connected during this socially distant time, GSA invites the scientists in our community to share how they are meeting these challenges, as well as their questions and worries.
If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact Communications Assistant Jacqueline Treboschi.
Guest post by Steven Munger, Assistant Professor of Systems Genetics at The Jackson Laboratory.
I’m trying to project strength and optimism to my kids and lab members right now, but I’m a mess, and I fear I’m failing both of them. That fear is not unusual for me, but has amplified exponentially this month. We closed down my small wet lab a few weeks ago, and everyone is now working remotely. I’ve tried to stay in touch with lab members and be available every morning to discuss their project via Slack video chat, and I continue to meet with them individually and together as a group at least once a week. But it’s not the same as being together in the same space, and it’s clear (and understandable) that our focus is not on research right now.
I’ve reconciled myself to the likelihood that little new research will be done in the next few months, and I’ve conveyed this to my lab members. Maybe we will finish papers and write a review or two during this period, but given how much time I’m spending each day obsessing over the latest COVID-19 infection numbers, maybe we won’t. And that’s OK. I want them to focus on their own physical and mental health right now and not be burdened with any expectation from me to maintain “business as usual.”
On the home front, my wife and I are trying to adapt to this new normal, which has required us to meticulously synchronize our work schedules and our kids’ “school” schedules to prioritize our precious internet bandwidth for the most important needs (e.g., streaming Zoom meetings, classes, episodes of Schitt’s Creek). This has added stress to my marriage, and I’m sure we’re not alone. My kids are bored and stir-crazy, and trying to provide them with some semblance of normalcy on a daily basis has proved to be a full-time job in and of itself. My own physical and mental health has suffered, as my current diet of carbs and ice cream is clearly unsustainable, and my COVID-related anxiety is affecting my sleep. I’m more thankful than ever for our golden retriever, Higgins, who has helped me keep my head above water and get outside more.
Another personal coping strategy that seems to be working involves taking on inane tasks around the house each day—vacuuming floors, painting walls, tightening screws on electrical outlet plates. The past four days, I’ve spent hours (plural) outside mindlessly blowing dirt and leaves off of my driveway with my leaf blower, eventually running out of asphalt and moving on to the part of the road leading up to my driveway. So far, it’s been the only way for me to really get out of my head and not think about COVID-19 for an hour. I expect I’ll have blown off half of the roads on my little Maine island by the time this pandemic has waned. But I guess anything’s better than wallowing in a pool filled with despair, potato chips, cookie dough, and Campari.
It’s somehow oddly comforting to know that we’re all in this together (I guess misery does love company) and each making it up as we go. One thing I’m really looking forward to is the online version of The Allied Genetics Meeting in April. Registration is free, and I hope all of you will join me to support our science, community members, and the GSA staff who have worked tirelessly to make this happen.
About the Author
Steven Munger is a Director on the GSA Board and an Assistant Professor of Systems Genetics at The Jackson Laboratory.