Many adjustments have been made to where and how we are working in the past month. With this blog, I draw attention to the difficult circumstances of our researchers—our faculty researchers, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
For this group, our campus and other facilities are critical to the progress of their work. So, similar to learners who can’t be physically present in clinical settings, most or all work for our researchers is stopped at this time. Their projects, some of which may have been on the cusp of a significant breakthrough, are halted. For our graduate students, as I mentioned in my earlier blog on learners, this stop to projects comes also with delays in graduation for some and managing difficult financial realities for many.
Processes are underway for determining facility access for projects related to COVID-19, and of course some access has been ongoing for some COVID-19 work at VIDO-Intervac and with testing in some of our laboratory facilities, and for projects involving care of animals. But for the majority of our researchers, projects are halted and they won’t gain access to facilities until that time when we begin our return to campuses and other facilities.
We have a number of our researchers involved in the critically important COVID-19 efforts at USask, like Scott Napper, professor of biochemistry and senior scientist at VIDO-Intervac. Maureen Anderson, assistant professor in community health and epidemiology, worked with the dynamic modelling team providing evidence to inform Saskatchewan’s pandemic decision-making in real-time, a collaboration with USask’s Department of Computer Science. Gary Groot, associate professor in community health and epidemiology and surgery, is working with Jim Barton, associate dean of continuing medical education, and a team that’s been gathering and vetting information on the science of the COVID-19 virus to inform provincial leaders in their planning and decision-making. I know you join me in thanking these members of our team for their work.
These efforts focused now on COVID-19 are a reminder that under normal circumstances, on a daily basis, our researchers are engaged in knowledge creation and discoveries that the world needs—important work that our researchers are passionate about, and to which they are passionately committed.
I am not suggesting that the physical distancing measures and changes in access to our facilities are not the right things to do—we know they are and that the safety of our people is paramount and comes before other considerations. But I do want to bring attention to the significance of this change for our researchers, this loss of momentum, this stop to incredibly important work.
As you can appreciate, it is particularly ironic to have, at the very same time, public recognition broadening for just how important science, knowledge creation and discovery are to our collective safety and wellbeing. That said, we know this public awareness is a good thing ultimately for science, and certainly has brought the incredibly valuable work of our population health experts and biomedical scientists to the forefront.
Similar to many, my own awareness and understanding of population health, immunology and the nature of viruses is expanding. I’ve become quite immersed, while working out, in This Week in Virology podcasts. Perhaps it’s my inner nerd speaking; I find them fascinating. I expect many of you are accessing new sources of information related to the pandemic; I welcome you to share here information you are turning to and finding helpful.
So with this message, I ask you to join me in acknowledging and recognizing our researchers at the CoM for their valuable contributions—those engaged directly in work now on the virus, but equally those who are removed for the time being from their work on underlying causes, treatments and cures for so many areas of health: cancer, heart disease and stroke, HIV-AIDS, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, cystic fibrosis, and so many more.