This week on Wundamail Voices, we hear from Meriame Berboucha, a Visiting Researcher at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Former Forbes Science Contributor. She shares her thoughts on how laboratories are adapting to conducting experiments remotely during a global pandemic, and how this will affect scientific experiments in the future.
What do you think the future of work looks like post-crisis?
As a laser physicist, the horizon for scientific research as far as science in my lab goes will find its way to a new normal. This new normal of science looks at following procedures remotely, with the help of robots, cameras and automated machinery. We’re looking into ways to get as few people as possible in the lab and hoping to get more experiments to work remotely. For most labs, this will be difficult. Buying robots and such, is expensive, but getting the people who are trained to know how to use them will also cost money.
For the time being, research regarding covid-19 has been prioritised and other research has been put on hold, including my own. In the meantime, other researchers are either gearing towards covid-19 research or trying to plan to carry out their experiments remotely once national or university labs start to reopen. This will take some time since most scientific experiments relied heavily on a workforce and shifting to ‘remote science’ will take some planning.
How should managers and leaders prepare?
It is evident that collaboration, and communication is more important than ever. With most, progressing science with remote conversations and calculations, being able to communicate effectively has become paramount to scientific progression.
In science, most people are there because they love their jobs and pushing the boundaries of science, so there isn’t much fear that employees aren’t working. Instead, it’s more a worry that our employers aren’t able to adapt their work to be remote without appropriate equipment or resources to work from home. Whether that be to complete complex simulations, build CAD models for new pieces of equipment, not having access to the lab to assemble required equipment or being able to just phone collaborators about upcoming experiments. Additionally, some procedures must be carried out on-site for the lab to function, thus, finding ways for individuals to work in a safe manner is currently undergoing a revamp.
Therefore, this is a time for managers/leaders to communicate effectively with their teams, collaborate with those with expertise for the task at hand, allow only essential lab work to be carried out and get resources out to those that need it. This is so that scientific research can continue as smoothly as possible as we transition into ‘remote science.’ Being patient and understanding of employee’s situations must also be a priority. Those with young children or caring for the elderly, just to name a few examples, are significantly impacted and must be taken into account before work goals are established.
Is this a step in the right direction and why?
For science, this is a new step that wasn’t really a priority before. Prioritising the ability to carry out an experiment remotely will be a change for quite a few national labs. For some, this means that international scientists might not be able to carry out their research in labs abroad if it means a specific piece of machinery/equipment/diagnostic can only be mounted/operated by an individual that is not local to the lab. That is to say, for the short term, labs are prioritising research with local scientists.
Planning for ‘remote science’ to happen in the future, is something that is being carefully thought through for labs across the world. The future for scientific institutions hopes to include international collaborators carrying out research remotely at national labs of their choice across the world. It will involve some interesting and involved developments, but the outcome will mean that hopefully those without funds to send their scientists to national labs across the world can participate in science at any institution of their choice.
To hear more from Meriame, you can find her on her social media channels!