How are COVID-19 Closures Affecting Lab Research?

by Rowan P. Marshall of Florida Southern 


In January of this year, we began hearing about a viral outbreak in China. By mid-February, the entire world was watching as COVID-19 spread to more and more countries. In early March, the outbreak began affecting people across the U.S. In response to the massive outbreak of the virus, many colleges and universities in the U.S. have made the decision to close their doors for the rest of the school year. These closures include sending residential students back home, suspending school activities, and moving all operations, including classes, online. But many of these institutions have science labs that conduct research in various areas throughout the year, and this work cannot really be moved to an online setting.

To learn more about how closures due to COVID-19 are affecting lab research, I talked to Whitney Tevebaugh, who is a lab manager at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Tevebaugh manages a lab that works on looking into the molecular aspects of viral infections in cells, and how viral infections can lead to cancer. The lab work includes tissue culture, molecular biology techniques, fluorescence microscopy, and studying mice. UNC-CH has been closed to students since March 23, 2020, with all remaining classes being continued online through the end of the semester. Tevebaugh noted that research staff have a little more flexibility with regard to essential operations, but they were still required to decrease on-site operations in order to minimize the number of people coming onto campus.

Many of the experiments that are run in Tevebaugh’s lab need to be run in person, making it difficult to continue lab work remotely. While the lab has not yet been required to completely shut down, they have been encouraged to reduce activity in the lab as much as possible. This has shifted much of the work “away from hands-on science to data analysis, reading, and writing,” Tevebaugh says. “Data that were collected beforehand can be statistically analyzed, made into figures for publication, and written up into manuscripts at home.” This is helping many of the projects to stay on track, but ultimately, a long-term closure of the university will probably cause delays for some studies.    

In preparation for the COVID-19 closure, Tevebaugh primed the lab as if it was being closed for a hurricane. Most of the equipment was unplugged, pipettes and other instruments were put into drawers, and cell lines were consolidated in order to shut off incubators and conserve CO2. Extra consumable supplies for the lab have also been ordered in case there are disruptions in production. The goal is to maintain low-level activity throughout the closure, or at least be able to easily start back up once the COVID-19 crisis is over. “It’s mirroring what’s happening in other areas: slowing down, stocking up,” Tevebaugh says. Members of the lab are staying in touch over email, phone, and Zoom, as well as keeping a schedule on a shared Google doc in order to minimize overlapping trips to the lab.

This is the experience of one lab, but research labs across the U.S. and around the world are experiencing similar effects. Since the COVID-19 epidemic in the U.S. is an emerging crisis that is continuing to change, there is currently no set date for when UNC-CH will reopen and let students and staff back on campus full time. Overall, Tevebaugh says, “It’s an uncertain time, but people with training in biology, epidemiology, and related fields are at least equipped to filter news stories for important information, rather than getting swept away by misinformation and panic.” It is important to remain calm throughout this crisis, and to stay informed as conditions change throughout the country.



Social Media Solutions to Save the Stay-at-Home Day

Check out these resources below and connect with these SICB members and other scientists via Twitter. There’s some wonderful tips for online teaching and people willing to collaborate if they have time on their hands others might not have. People are also getting creative with things to pass the time (meanwhile, I stick with fishing).

We will update these periodically and feel free to send us any you collect that we can share with our readers via 


Learning at Home

People are Offering Their Help However They Can

­­­Stay Sane While Being Productive (Other than Netflix)

Bill Nye has nothing on Calvin Yeager

A Podcast host interview for Curioscity


In the midst of all the upheaval we are all experiencing, I was elated when Curioscity podcast host, Calvin Yeager 4th year Biochemical Virology PhD Candidate at UNC, kept the time we’d already set up to Skype. I hope you’ll enjoy our conversation below. 

The podcast was launched January 3rd, 2019 and is now over a year old!

How do you feel the current global pandemic (COVID-19) will change science in the future? 

It’s hard to tell — scientists spend a lot of time looking back on data to predict the future. I feel there is potential for widespread infection and it is unclear whether the measures we are taking for the next month are appropriate. A major consideration is reducing cases to below the threshold of what hospitals can handle. It’s hard to tell if the change of seasons will alter infection rates or viral spread.


Do you feel this will cause climate change to lose any traction in the community’s awareness? 

Climate change is in the foreground of virologists’ minds, and virologists like to talk about it. Many viruses, like West Nile, Chikungunya, and Zika are spread by mosquitoes. Many more viruses are spread by ticks. Increasing global temperatures help to expand host ranges of the mosquitoes and thus the viruses. Hopefully, we will be able to turn this pandemic into a situation where we can have useful conversations about other viruses that are impacted by climate change


I really liked the YouTube video that featured your entry into the Millennium Café Elevator Pitch Competition!

Tell me why scientists need to be able to deliver an elevator pitch.

It’s important that all scientists communicate their research and emphasize its importance to the public. The pitch is also useful to the scientist because it prompts them to take a 50,000 foot perspective of their work. Sometimes we get so caught up in the minutiae of what we study that we forget the broader importance of why we do it. At the same time, an elevator pitch is supposed to be simple and without jargon, thus making it easily accessible to the public who fund our research with their tax dollars.

What episodes do you have coming up? 

We just released an episode discussing the process of bringing a drug to market. We get into the financial resources, preliminary data, and time required to bring a small molecule or pharmaceutical into clinical trials. That episode released last Thursday, which was March 19th, 2020.

What led you to study science? 

My general interest in science began in elementary school. During that period, I spent a majority of my time in the redwood forests in California catching salamanders and making potions.

I had a poorly funded high school and didn’t always have the same resources to do hands-on learning, but I still enjoyed chemistry and biology. When I went to college, I knew I wanted to study the sciences. I ended up choosing biochemistry because I liked chemistry more than I liked biology (and there were more letters in biochemistry that were from “chemistry”, haha).

How did you end up at UNC? 

I realized my interest in science was very academic and that I would be well suited to be a PhD. My college advisor recommended that I apply to Penn State because he knew I liked biochemistry and viruses. My thesis advisor, Craig Cameron, is a biochemical virologist – score! He took a job at UNC just last year as the chair of the Microbiology and Immunology department.

The impetus for your podcast Curioscity was…

I listen to plenty of podcasts. I find that when comedians talk about science without a formal education, they often say misleading things. I would often email the comedians with factual corrections and consultation offers. No one ever took me up on it, haha. Then, I got sick one weekend and woke up in the middle of the night with the realization that I should just make a podcast myself. Still, I didn’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it, so I decided to email a couple podcast networks and see if my idea for a show would be a good fit. Vincent Racaniello (professor at Columbia) runs the podcast network MicrobeTV and liked my proposal.

My show intends to speak to people who are non-scientists and non-specialists. We provide a basic understanding of scientific topics that will mesh really well with other science podcasts (especially those you can find on MicrobeTV!).

Tell us about your favorite episode so far? 

There are a couple that are near and dear to my heart. As I told you before, salamanders really helped me find my interest in science. Wham – episode 52 was salamanders.

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I should also mention episode 29: Human evolution and migration. My guest and I talked about human ancestors like Homo erectus, Homo habilus, etc. It was nice to talk about because evolution is a huge, fundamental tenet of biology. Sometimes people think you can politicize science, but scientists are supposed to be relegated to making assertions from data they measure and collect. As most scientists have told me through my life: “The data are the data”. An incredibly vast majority of all scientists are on-board with climate change and evolution… why disagree with the experts?


How do you choose your podcast topics?

It’s actually incredibly self-serving! I talk about things I want to learn about, and during the course of my discussion with my guest figure out what we don’t know and what we would like to know. I try to keep the tone very conversational; it can be hard enough to learn science in the first place without it being dry.


What sources do you like to use? 

I start by thinking about what background information my audience needs to know to understand the given topic. My sources are educational institutions, scientific publishers, or governmental websites (and all of the citations for each episode are available at my website I always ask the listeners to email us or Tweet at us if we make any factual errors so that we can edit the website citation section if need be. I also don’t listen to any other science podcast regularly so that my content is as original as possible.


What other things are you into that foster your success in the sciences but don’t have to do with science per se? 

I’m really interested in sharing things, like a note in a song, or a brush stroke in a painting, and I think this aspect of my personality lends itself to being an educator.

I remember I won a teaching assistant award ( at Penn State, and it was likely because I was desperate to get all of the students I taught invested in the topic of microbiology. I wanted what I taught to be relevant to them for their future. I want to make everything personal to people.

Was there anything else you wanted to expound on before we sign off?

Something I wanted to mention is that people who do science communication are often thought to be “Bill Nye” types; that is, people who aren’t active researchers, scientific figureheads, or students. I believe the whole scientific community needs to get on-board with sharing their science to the public. All scientists need to be able to explain what they do to anyone.

I might also mention that at my poorly funded high school, one cheap thing we could do was acting. We mostly did Shakespeare, but the teachers taught us to be emotive. This acting experience has been a major boon to me. Sure, it doesn’t always play well in the scientific community (and I’ve had some comments about how I’m too enthusiastic or like a used car salesman), but I tell people I like to seem excited about what I’m doing… and if they don’t like it, there are still plenty of people giving monotone lectures.

Connect with Calvin via Twitter :


Curioscity has so many wonderful episodes and it hands down makes for an enlightening and entertaining listen for scientists, science enthusiasts and even just anyone needing a something to listen to while passing the time on their commute or while they’re home at their computer. 


Interview performed and compiled by Suzanne Miller, Managing Editor of SICB journals.













When the going gets more than rough – Scientists collaborate…

Check out these resources below and connect with these SICB members and other scientists via Twitter. There’s some wonderful tips for online teaching and people willing to collaborate if they have time on their hands others might not have. 

We will update these weekly and feel free to send us any you collect that we can share with our readers via 

Resources / workshops/ collaborations offered 

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Zoom fun : 

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Articles/bloggers getting a lot of buzz…

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Museum perusal: 

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Links: – has a great presentation on teaching remotely in times of need 


# hashtags 





(ICB/ SICB does not necessarily have their views reflected by these resources and or authors of them. We are only passing them along.) 

Posted by Suzanne Miller- SICB Journal’s Managing Editor 



An ICB podcast referral : A chat with Papa PhD



Interview completed by the Managing Editor for ICB and IOB , Suzanne Miller: 

In my continued search for new science podcasts, I happened upon Papa PhD hosted and produced by its creator David Mendes. 

This podcast has wonderful interviews with those who’ve completed their PhD’s where they talk about what brought them to the path they are currently on in their career. When it comes to thinking about networking and thinking outside the box as far as next steps after your PhD program, this is the podcast to subscribe to. 


The interview: 

What was the impetus for your podcast?

The reason I launched Papa PhD was a realization that doctoral researchers out there were still dealing with a lot of doubt and anxiety, 10 years down the road from my defense. This realization came after being invited to talk in different PhD career panels and at meetings.
If I can help in any way with my own lessons learned, I’m game for that. 

I realized that I could help and inspire researchers out there by sharing the career journeys of people who have gone down that path before.

I’ve always liked computers and audio, I realized that the podcast medium is growing fast and the barriers to starting them are steadily getting lower. I had a lull when a project finished so I decided to start a podcast to inspire people by showcasing what they can do professionally after their graduate studies. 

There was one episode where someone mentions serendipity – doors opening that you didn’t expect, then you must try to go in and see if opportunity presents itself. 

Which episode has been one of your favorites so far and why? 

Each interview has its own particular  interest for me, but if I have too single one out, I’d say episode 24 with Fabio Rosa, Gil Costa, and Patricia Monteiro. It was my second live recording and the first with multiple guests. 

What I really like about this episode is that I had the opportunity to have a PhD student, a PhD who left academia, and a professor around the same table. This made for a really rich interview, covering such subjects as starting a business during your PhD, going freelance, science communication and outreach, as well as the importance of women as role models in the STEM space.

I’ve had various surprises, where guests share about their past extracurricular activities, such as competition-level sports, and about how these eventually played a central role later on, when interviewing for jobs. 

One of my main motivations for starting Papa PhD, was to cover mental health issues as well. 

I’m from Portugal, originally, and when you’re away from home things can be tough. 

If you hit a roadblock early in your graduate studies, then you can begin to fear failure. 

I ended up defending my thesis without published articles, and this meant I would not be going into academia. This was a struggle and I used all the resources I could at my university, a PhD support group, an imposter syndrome workshop, and counseling services. After turning in my thesis, I ended up getting a job as a medical writer. 6 years later I ended up being published. 

Aside from my own hardships during my PhD process, it’s clear from Twitter that people are talking about struggle and difficulties going through grad school, especially PhD candidates. A lot of what is said on social media around life as a PhD researcher has to do with mental health issues. 

What was your original tract?

I was majoring in cell biology and biochemistry. I thought I’d like to be a professor and you must have a PhD. I’ve always loved science and apart from languages, it was what I was good at. 

Eventually you find that out of 100 people who go into grad school 10 stay in the academic tract and other 90 can do other positions. 

This is another thing that should be put out there, the stats on professorship, 

Have you changed your opinion or would you still be a professor? 

I’m more and more attracted to doing science outreach and science communication. 

Are there ways you feel the scientific community could better support PhD students? 

One of the things that’s come up during my interviews is that someone told me in my graduate studies, to always write graduate researcher when giving myself a title on applications, not graduate student. Thinking of people in this prism is better and will give you a better self value. 

Saying you’re a researcher changes how people look at you and how you see yourself. 

All the conversations I’ve been having point towards a change in mindsets , those of institutions and professors. A PhD program should make it easier for people to have a growth experience.

They should also keep in mind that someone can enter a PhD in neuroscience and have other interests like playing in a band or have an interest in history. They should accept this and realize those people can still bring valuable contributions. Some labs don’t like for you to have any focus other than your research and this kind of weight can be damaging. This kind of mentality can have impacts on happiness and also in their research. Lab teams that are as diverse as possible, in interests, backgrounds, and attributes. Promoting diversity in teams of graduate researchers is key. Grad students should not be made to feel guilty for being multifaceted. 

If we are all beige it gets boring and it doesn’t lead to the most productive work or good mental health. 

Another way institutions can help is by using their platform to bring possible players to campus to show them alternatives to the traditional PhD tract – bringing employers to PhD career fairs.This exposes them to possibilities. Only universities have the clout to do this. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you feel the PhD community faces in the next decade? 

We as people entering graduate studies need to update our outlook on our possibilities afterwards. Expectations must change. Institutions also must accept that people will come in who don’t want to be professors mandatorily.  The challenge is breaking a culture that goes way back, an ancient culture. We are still living by these standards even though the reality has changed. Decades ago, you were assured that if you finished your PhD, you’d have a tenured position, but this is not the reality now. The system is built for a reality that no longer exists. 

The PhD is a great experience and you will grow a lot as a person and an intellect. You will have accrued skills in team and project management or stock management if you’re in bio science, for example. It’s very pertinent to do a PhD if you’re the kind of person who wants to do something new. Though, we’ll set ourselves up for less doubt and depression if we make the shift and work towards the new reality. 

Change is very hard, however I’ve met professors who are very forward thinking then there are the other ones who are very one sided and don’t feel multifaceted people will bring anything to their team. To change this is like stopping a train that’s moving very fast. 

There has to continue to be conversations between the teaching and student body and gradually change will happen. 


Dear Students looking for Postdocs

Noah Bressman is a Ph.D. candidate at Wake Forest University in the lab of Dr. Miriam Ashley-Ross. In May, he will begin a postdoctoral position at Chapman University with Dr. Doug Fudge. Noah also blogs for the journal Integrative Organismal Biology, check out his website for more information about his research and interests.

Dear Students looking for Postdocs,

I’m not going to lie, the postdoc search is terrifying. You are finishing up your PhD program. While you are trying to write everything up and finish your projects, you can’t because you need to continuously apply for postdoc positions to ensure you’ll have some place to go after graduation… But the more you apply, the less time you have to finish your dissertation… But you need to apply to more  so you have somewhere to go when you graduate and because positions are competitive so you will face a lot of rejection…

It is a very stressful time, but as someone who is currently finishing my PhD and starting a postdoc in a few months, I am here to offer some advice

First and foremost, start the search early. A lot of postdoc applications (and grant applications for postdoc funding) are due in the fall. Getting an early start on those applications will allow you to prepare a better application. If you don’t get any of those positions, you will then still have time to apply for the next batch of postings that are released in the winter around the time of SICB’s annual conference time. 

Don’t just apply early in terms of the academic year, though, apply early relative to your PhD funding. I am fortunate to have additional years of PhD funding left, so if I did not get a position this year, I would survive waiting until next year to start. However, I have friends who are not as fortunate and are frantically searching and applying for postdoc positions in their last funded semester, just trying to make sure they have somewhere to go. While sometimes you can apply early in your PhD progress, other times it is just unavoidable to have to finish your PhD during your last semester of funding, which is extremely stressful.

Noah with Atlantic Hagfish at Shoals Marine Lab in an awful Instagram selfie circa 2014.

In May, I will be starting a postdoc with Dr. Doug Fudge at Chapman University. My position will focus primarily on hagfish and how their unique slime may be able to be used by the navy to safely stop small boat propellers at high speeds (so excited!). I have known Doug since we met at Shoals Marine Lab while I was an undergraduate. When he heard about my undergraduate research, he suggested I apply for a PhD with him. 

At that point, though, I had already accepted a position at Wake Forest University. He then said (perhaps jokingly) that I should look towards him for a postdoc. I kept that in mind throughout my PhD. I made sure to maintain my connection to him, always interacting with him at SICB and emailing him whenever I had questions about subjects that he was well versed in. In my opinion, I got this position not only because of my qualifications, but because I maintained a connection with Doug and he was familiar with my research as well as my personality. 

Attending conferences and/or making friends at field labs is a great way to start the ball rolling on meeting the people to maintain connections with. For some of us, it’s easier to walk up to strangers and say, “Hi, I’m Noah and I love your research showing the phylogenetic distribution of extraoral taste buds in osteichthyes.” For more introverted people, this  may be difficult. It may be helpful to hang around your more extroverted friends at conferences to piggyback on their connections. 

For the extroverts out there, your introverted friends would greatly appreciate introductions to scientists that you know, some of whom may be looking to hire postdocs and students. There are also job boards at conferences like SICB where not only can you post your resume saying “Looking for a Postdoc”, but PIs put up fliers saying “I want to hire postdocs/students to study _______”. These people are literally advertising to throw money at graduating students like you!

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Noah with collaborators and great friends at SICB 2020 doing our “Fish Lab 8” hand signs, reminiscing about when we first met at Friday Harbor Labs in 2015. Photo by Katherine Corn.

Maintaining good connections is always a great idea for multiple reasons. They can help lead to lasting friendships, as many SICB members are well aware, but also collaborations and jobs. Sometimes, all it takes to maintain connections is a little bit of friendly chit chat once a year at a conference, yet that can make huge impacts on your career. By checking in on what’s going on in their lab and showing interest in what they are doing, you may also learn of an interesting project that you may want to join.

Keep an eye on social media for job postings.  I found several of the positions I applied for through Twitter and Facebook. As one of the people managing the SICB Twitter account, I do my best to retweet every job posting I find or that tag @SICBtweets. The divisional Facebook groups are also great places to look for job postings.

Shoot for the stars! If you think you are underqualified for a postdoc but are interested, apply anyway. Either you will or you won’t get the job, but you definitely won’t get it if you don’t apply. I even applied for some dream tenure-track professor positions at some of my favorite institutions. Despite not having postdoctoral experience or many publications, if I had gotten one of these positions, I would have been set career-wise for life! The worst that happened, was that I spent a few hours preparing applications that I could easily modify for future job applications.

Cold emailing is an option. If there is a person you really want to do research with but who doesn’t have a clearly listed postdoc opening, you can politely email to inquire. Even if you do not know them personally, many scientists are friendly enough to respond. Sometimes, universities have postdoc programs you can apply to rather than specific projects. Some PIs may also be waiting to hear back about grant funding before publicly announcing a position. By showing an early interest, you may have a leg up on these positions. Additionally, PIs may not have funding currently but they may be willingly to write a grant proposal with you (such as for an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship) to obtain postdoc funding. They also say no, but you won’t know unless you ask.

One position I applied for was with Dr. Ty Hedrick of UNC Chapel Hill to study the aerodynamics and metabolism of flying birds. While very different than studying how fish move across land, this project shared biomechanical and physiological themes with my research.  Photo by Graham Askew.

Apply outside of your comfort zone. Postdocs are great opportunities to learn new skills that will make you a better scientist and more marketable for professorships. Many of you know me solidly as a fish person, but I actually applied for some bat and bird postdocs. While I would have loved to do a number of projects on fish, working with new animals could also be fun, would teach me new skills, and help market me as a vertebrate biologist instead of just a fish biologist, allowing me to apply for broader professor positions in the future. Additionally, while I have fairly proficient with computers, these projects would have helped me to develop high-level computational skills that are widely sought after. Going outside of your comfort zone to learn new skills in the short-term will also improve your abilities as a scientist/pad your CV so you are better able to get the long-term position you want in the future.

Hopefully, some of you find some of my experience and advice helpful in your postdoc search, but remember: Everyone is different, and has different experiences. The important thing is to get out there and have experiences. 

Take Care,

Noah Bressman


What happens when ecological morphology joins up with conservation & management? S9 in Austin wants to tell you…

S9: Applied Functional Biology: Linking Ecological Morphology to Conservation and Management           

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Day: Monday, Jan. 6, 07:45 a.m. Austin , Texas
Room: Brazos

Chairs: Lance McBrayer, Eric McElroy, Diego Sustaita


Attend any SICB meeting and you will see how technology has revolutionized the study of morphological analysis. DiceCT, XROMM, and geometric morphometrics, to name a few, have provided 3D windows to internal anatomy, access to joint motion, and a rigorous framework for examining complex forms. Likewise, the discipline of “ecomorphology” (i.e., using morphology to explain and predict ecological patterns) has become formalized into a hypothetico-deductive framework that elucidates causative roles of morphological traits in organismal ecology. Yet, these (and other) advances in our ability to study and understand organisms has occurred during a time of catastrophic loss of biological diversity and ecological change.  Given this, we have organized a symposium to show SICB members examples of productive collaborations between us (basic scientists) and land resource managers or conservationists, so that our research might help be part of the solution to the challenges the organisms we love face today.

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This symposium is the result of a roundtable discussion held after a previous symposium: “Vertebrate Ecomorphology: Past, Present and Future” at ICVM-11 in 2016.  At SICB 2020, we have asked contributors to extend this earlier discussion with examples and strategies on how fellow SICB members might find common ground to work with natural resource managers and conservationists.  We argue that organismal biologists (be they morphologists, physiologists, behaviorists, ecologists, etc.) study how important elements of the phenotype are not only relevant to the organism, but also may scale up to shape population and community level phenomena.  How variation in organismal properties scales up to the population and community level may have direct, or indirect, implications and applications for wildlife conservation and management. This is because wildlife management and conservation efforts must focus their attention on population- and community-level dynamics levels because their specific mandate is often related to the survival or health of a species of interest. Additionally, many organismal biologists are increasingly interested in how the environment impacts morphological and functional variation.  How this environmental context effects individual’s ability to survive and reproduce is likely most appealing to resource managers.

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We also hope to point out that conservation and management efforts could benefit from a more rigorous examination of organismal traits that dictate fitness at the individual level. A similar missive has been issued in the disciplines of animal behavior and behavioral ecology, where researchers have (Angeloni et al. 2008), and continue to express practical interests in, contributing to conservation (Bro-Jørgensen et al. 2019; Caro & Berger 2019).  Here we extend these efforts by focusing on underlying morphological and performance traits that influence organismal behavior and ecology.  Attendees will see some great science, along with novel ideas on how to contribute to, and collaborate with, management and conservation minded scientists alike.