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Science

Parallels between the Uncertainty of Coronavirus and Scientific Research

Thoughts from American University Science Students and Faculty

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Everyone is eager to return to their normal lifestyle. But as we shuffle past each other at the grocery store trying to maintain six feet, one may ask, is this our new normal? The coronavirus has brought on a troubling level of uncertainty for what the future holds. Dr. Krogan, a biology professor at American University says that “what we’re dealing with is extremely frustrating and we’re moving through the phases for better or for worse.” Instead of dwelling on what is lost, we are forced towards a redesigned future.

As scientists, we plunge into the realm of the unknown to tackle unanswered questions. AU STEM students are often found hard at work in laboratories to uphold the importance of research. Persevering through grueling hours behind a microscope and making sense of unexpected results is commonplace for us. So how is the uncertainty of research any different from the obstacles presented by coronavirus?

Research is an innovative field that results in a better understanding of the world around us. “The whole idea of research is not to get a certain finding, but to understand what is going on,” says AU graduate student Colin Sterling Jr. The scientific method is a process made up of malleable steps that give the researcher innovative freedom (Pontius and McIntosh, 2020). Being adaptable and persevering through the experiment are valuable lessons that every researcher masters.

Our commitment to exploring science grounds us amidst the chaos of research. We can benefit from this skillset when tackling the uncertainty of this global pandemic. Dr. Krogan makes sure he reads multiple sources before forming his own opinion on flashy news headlines. His training as a scientist allows him to acknowledge the necessity of scientific proof and studies behind any speculations on the news. This translates to the classroom, and AU undergraduate student Shalini Ramachandra says she also “takes the time to look up multiple sources.” These parallel viewpoints between professor and student show how the AU community is united while tackling this global pandemic.

AU faculty host a weekly seminar called Summer Undergraduate & Graduate Experiences Seminar (SUGER) as a safe space for students, faculty, and alumni. Last week’s panelists left a lasting impression, says Ramachandra. “It is difficult to not have much control, but the alumni were reassuring by sharing their untraditional ways of achieving their goals.” While this pandemic has shaken everyone to the core, there are valuable lessons to be learned. Ramachandra says she values structure, but the coronavirus has prepared her “a lot better for when problems arise later in the real world.” Dr. Krogan echoes this sentiment by explaining how unlikely partnerships between academia and pharmaceutical companies have been formed due to coronavirus and hopefully will persist and aid in tackling future crises.  

Everyone has a unique way of tackling obstacles, and AU has taught us how to isolate and amplify those strengths. Weekly seminars, alumni support, and faculty mentoring are a few examples of how well equipped AU students are. Our everyday coursework and skillsets are based on making sense of the unknown world. Instead of hoping for a return to normalcy, let us redefine what life will look like from here on out as a community.

References:

Pontius, J., and McIntosh, A. (2020). Scientific Inquiry. Critical Skills for Environmental Professionals. pp. 45-56.