Conducting Research During COVID-19: A Student Perspective

Conducting research, which is considered a key component of one’s undergraduate career and one way to fulfill the experiential learning requirement for graduation, is no easy process.

Throw a mid-semester global pandemic into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster.

But disaster it was not for many Macaulay students, taking advantage of technology to conduct their research programs and experiences during the summer. Some experiences, like the one that Rhia Singh (Hunter ’21) had at Cornell Tech as a part of their Break Through Tech internship program, were well-suited to this virtual environment.

“Although the internship was remote, I still felt connected to other members of the lab.” Singh noted, referencing the daily Zoom calls she and her fellow interns held to simulate a sense of togetherness during the program.

Beyond meetings, she had the opportunity to listen to lectures with various Cornell Tech faculty members and learn about breakthroughs in her field of study. The virtual format made schedule such lectures easier, allowing for more professional development opportunities for Singh and many others.

Other programs had to get a little more creative due to the lack of in-person collaboration, as Harry Wu (Hunter ’22) experienced during his co-op at Merck’s Exploratory Science Center Molecular Discovery team. Although he was unable to physically perform chemistry techniques in his position, he was able to pursue a literature review project to further his insights into his lab’s research.

“I felt like a journalist looking for patterns between separate accounts, trying to determine who’s telling the truth and how it all fits into a cohesive story,” Wu stated.

He found that this project allowed him to not only delve into the subjects he was studying at a level that would have been impossible if he were in the lab, but also hone the skills of academic writing and preparing publications.

The virtual experiences were not without their challenges, though. Wu noted the struggles of remaining productive at home, both in maintaining motivation and resisting the urge to work longer out of convenience. He emphasized the balance of breaks with productive time to avoid burnout, and that keeping a strict schedule with such breaks programmed in helped his productivity.

With the forecast of the COVID-19 pandemic still looking hazy, Singh encouraged all students to pursue a research experience even if it’s online: “[C]ontinue reaching out to professors through email. There are still many great ways to contribute to research in [your] field.”

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