Science During the COVID Era

October 17, 2020
Arnaud Delorme, PhD, IONS Scientist

How do scientists manage the COVID crisis? Are we able to work? How are we affected?

Obviously, our capability to acquire certain kinds of data for our research is being impacted. We have a lab on our IONS campus in Petaluma, CA, where we can usually collect data such as brain wave or EEG recordings and saliva collection for genetic studies. One exciting analysis we were able to do with this data was to compare brain wave data with people’s ideas of their well-being. The results of this study will be published soon.

Luckily, we had already developed the IONS Discovery Lab (IDL) a few years ago, which is available in an online format. The IONS Discovery Lab studies how transformative practices affect people’s sense of interconnectedness, extended human capacities, and well-being. So, the IONS Discovery Lab study continues online even though we can’t be together in person. The IDL survey has been used by participants all over the world!

Also, many scientists, including myself, have school-aged children, who currently cannot attend school in person. This can sometimes make it hard for the parents to get our own work done. I have been personally teaching my eight-year-old daughter for two hours a day, while still trying to perform my work tasks. I resonated with this quote published in Nature about the disruption to science due to COVID.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly disrupted the scientific enterprise… Scientists with young children experienced a substantial decline in time devoted to research. This could have important short- and longer-term effects on their careers, which institution leaders and funders need to address carefully.

Collecting data is just one small part of being a scientist. Science involves designing studies, finding funding for these projects, obtaining ethics board approval, running the study, managing the study participants, analyzing the data, writing the scientific reports including hours of bibliographical research, attending scientific conferences, plus all the administrative duties associated with the position we hold. Phew! And, yet, being a scientist is considered one of the least stressful jobs. I’m not sure I agree! Most scientists do not have guaranteed income and function much like a small business owner. If funding falls through then they may even need to change professions.

Compared to the pre-COVID era, I would say that scientists have adapted well and have even increased productivity. Dean Radin, IONS Chief Scientist, who is also the Chief Editor of the peer-reviewed journal Explore, said there have been 5 to 10 times more submissions to the journal since the beginning of COVID. This is likely because scientists who cannot collect new data can focus on analyzing and publishing existing data.

The way we attend scientific conferences has also changed. All in-person conferences have been canceled or been transitioned to an online format until late 2021. Attending conferences and interacting with peers is a big part of research. At first, post-COVID conferences were simple video-conferencing. This has rapidly evolved. Now, conferences involve more dynamic and complex login procedures, such as entering into a virtual game to create an avatar that can interact with other participant avatars via video. Usually conferences involve a main presentation and poster sessions for students. For poster sessions, students can now post their avatar next to their virtual poster in the game and answer questions of avatars who approach them as they would in real life.

The most challenging part of conference scheduling has been time zone differences. Virtual conferences have a hard time finding hours that will work for everybody including America, Europe, and Asia. For example, 10AM on the US West Coast is 1PM on the East Coast, but it is 7PM in central Europe, and 1AM in China, 2AM in Japan, and 4AM in Australia. Some large conferences run for 24 hours a day and simply have people join when they can, recording live presentations so they can be replayed later. Other conferences run for four hours a day trying to find the least disruptive time that would accommodate the maximum number of people.

All and all, scientists are lucky, many of us have been able to continue to work. In the COVID era, trust in science has also increased as people look to scientists to find answers and solutions to the current crisis. At IONS, we have been especially mindful of how COVID and fear has impacted our well being – and what we can do to alleviate those fears.

This has taught us a lot, and while our IONS scientists continue to transition our studies to online formats, we are also interacting with the IONS Experience and Engagement team to organize and present more interactive, online events for IONS members and the community at large. We offer a range of workshops and courses such as ConnectIONS Live, Living Deeply Practices, and Conscious Aging, among others. You can learn more about our offerings on the IONS Experience page and about our current online research studies on our IONS Participate in Research page.

About the Author

Arnaud Delorme, PhDArnaud Delorme, PhD, is a CNRS principal investigator in Toulouse, France, a faculty member at the University of California, San Diego, and a research scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He is a long-term Zen meditator, and has taught in India on the neural correlates of conscious experience in a Master’s degree program for the Birla Institute of Technology.

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