Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences Director of Research Louis Stemmler said his research group of about 10 people would get together once a week to present and discuss research results.
On March 25, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order suspending all research activities not necessary to sustain or protect life. Wayne State began resuming on-campus research operation starting June 1.
The process of meeting in-person once a week is “very valid for testing the scientific method, but we can't do that now because we can't all be in the same room and maintain social distancing,” Stemmler said. “So my lab, and pretty much all the labs I know of, have gone to Zoom meetings for their group meetings.”
The research resumption process required the submission of an individual lab restart plan by the instructor of each research group, according to the WSU Division of Research. Plans were reviewed and approved by the department chair, college deans or vice deans and the Vice President for Research’s office.
After approval, each individual received an authorization letter with specific information on required training, access to facilities, completing the campus daily screener and other safety precautions, said Steve Lanier, WSU vice president for research.
Initially, the university focused on bringing back graduate students who already had experience in labs, with training new students while socially distanced presenting challenges, Lanier said. Labs were also limited to 25% capacity.
Labs are slowly expanding to include senior-level undergraduate students who need research experience to graduate, he said.
“Many programs actually operationalize remotely —they are computer-enabled, doing data crunch, data analysis— but then there are a subset of activities that require on-site presence,” Lanier said. “To a large extent, those are wet labs and bench labs.”
Wet and bench labs are primarily found in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, School of Medicine and the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Lanier said.
The chemistry building is currently only being used for research, Department of Chemistry Professor and Chair Matthew Allen said.
“We've moved all of our lectures virtual or online so that we can make basically twice as many lab sections, so that we can keep everybody safe and get them the education they need,” he said.
To accommodate for lost opportunities and lab-times, students have created the WSU Virtual Research club for undergraduates interested in conducting research during the pandemic.
According to the organization, they hope to connect students interested in research and provide information to help students for their future careers.
The organization meets bimonthly to discuss research techniques, topics and opportunities, said Tala Hussini, club president and junior majoring in biomedical engineering.
“A lot of students are just eager to find research opportunities,” Hussini said. “We work with the Wayne State School of Medicine and the American Physician Scientists Association to connect students with any opportunities that come up.”
Laboratory work is required for chemistry students, Allen said.
“A large obstacle that chemistry has, that other departments might not, is that the laboratory is essential. The students are getting less time than they used to get in the lab, but it's more than none,” he said.
Nour Rahal is news editor at The South End. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo by Quinn Banks, The South End's multimedia editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.