Ethan Crouse '21

Katz Lab, Department of Psychology
Brandeis University

Ethan Crouse

Fellow Reflection: Conducting Research During a Pandemic

I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to come back to the lab and perform benchwork for my project amidst the pandemic. The most important skill I’ve been able to work on this summer has been my own autonomy in the lab. Normally, the lab is packed with undergrads,  grad students, and an awesome postgrad; lab members are always available to give both theoretical and practical advice. However, upon the introduction of population caps in the lab, I’ve been working mostly on my own since the beginning of the pandemic. This requires me to have a really good hold on whatever techniques or protocols I may be using. Despite the chaos of the pandemic, I appreciate that I have been forced into being more independent. I think I’ll carry this independence forward even after the pandemic and be a better researcher for it.

Something unrelated that I’ve found to be super important during this time is efficient and direct communication. As I’m not meeting my mentor or my PI in person, the situation requires regular and quick meetings online to catch up / clear up questions. I’ve learned to document all of my progress, clearly write out all my questions, and also to create organized plans of weekly tasks / future benchmarks of my experiment. In doing so, I’ve found my meetings to be much more effective.

In terms of challenges, I feel lucky to say that there haven’t been significant challenges to my experiment. I view pandemic-related hiccups as opportunities to be a more flexible researcher. A lot of the materials and medications I use in my experiments have been on manufacturing holds, so we’ve found alternatives. Similarly, shipping times have increased, and so the overall pace of my experiment has been reduced. However, I’m using this time to better understand the theoretical aspects of my lab work, and so I don’t see it as wasted time. Overall It’s been a very productive summer so far and I’m appreciative of the funding I’ve been gifted from the Bauer Foundation.

Giving Back

The Bauer fellowship provided the opportunity for two other fellows, Paul Jiang, Anna Kate Rattray, and I, to live in Waltham for the duration of the summer and make progress on our individual research projects. When we weren’t working, we explored the local nature scene and found a couple of spots which we frequented throughout the summer. I can speak for the three of us when I say that spending time in nature is an important part of our lives, and that naturalistic appreciation fosters both scientific and creative inspiration. Unfortunately, many of our favorite spots are littered with trash and broken glass. Litter is both unsightly and a public health hazard, and after seeing children playing in and around these areas we had the idea to spend time cleaning up. We collected several bags of trash from the Charles River Running trail, trails near the Reservoir, and trails behind the Mt. Feake Cemetery. On top of trash collection, we meticulously and safely extracted pieces of shattered glass from each area.

Opportunities this summer for traditional science/healthcare initiatives were high-risk and few and far between. We found these trash cleanups to be both safe for ourselves (and indirectly to our respective laboratories), and rewarding. The community of Waltham enjoys these spots regularly, and it feels good knowing that we had the chance this summer to make a tangible impact on places we love and appreciate greatly. We thank the Bauer Foundation again for this opportunity.