Embracing remote research can benefit postdocs and their research teams

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As the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of college and university campuses this fall continues, those who work, study, teach and conduct research are navigating the uncertain terrain of the “new normal”. They balance physical distancing and other COVID-19 prevention practices with productivity, create work-from-home spaces, and master communications and teamwork across time and space.

It turns out that there is a group of people for whom these challenges are not new. Postdoctoral researchers — people in the critical phase between graduate school and permanent university positions — are part of a small but growing cohort that is turning to remote work to meet the challenges of their young careers. Often called upon to relocate multiple times for short-term, full-time appointments, postdocs and their families face increased financial costs, sacrificed career opportunities, and separations from their support communities.

But with the right practices and the right outlook, remote work can level the playing field, especially for members of underrepresented groups, according to Kurt Ingeman, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Biology. UC Santa Barbara Navy. And, like it or not, with COVID-19 factoring into virtually every decision we make now, he noted, it’s an idea whose time has come.

“We started this project in the pre-pandemic era, but it seems more relevant than ever, as academics are forced to embrace working from home,” said Ingeman, who advocates for remote postgraduate work in review. Computational Biology PLOS. Family and financial considerations prompted his own decision to design a remote position; many early-career researchers face the same concerns, he said.

It takes a change of perspective to overcome the resistance to having remote search teammates. Senior researchers often don’t see the remote postdoc as a fully functioning member of the lab and worry about the loss of spontaneous informal actions and interactions that can generate new ideas, Ingeman said.

“These are very valid concerns,” he said. “We suggest (in the paper) ways to use digital tools to fully integrate remote postdocs into lab activities, like mentoring graduate students or coding and writing together. Those same spaces are valuable for virtual conversations and other informal interactions.”

Technology-enabled communication is actually fundamental to a good remote postgraduate experience, according to Ingeman and his co-authors, who advocate investing in and using reliable videoconferencing tools that can help create connections between team members, and creating digital spaces to share documents and files. Transparency and setting expectations early are the keys to a good start. In situations where proximity would have naturally led to interaction, the researchers recommend having a robust communication plan. In addition, postdocs would benefit from establishing university links within their local community to combat isolation.

There are benefits to be derived from such arrangements and practices, the researchers continued. For the postdoc, this could mean less stress and difficulty, and more focus on the job. For the team, that could mean a wider network overall.

“For me, remote postdoctoral work has been a real bridge to becoming an independent researcher,” said Ingeman, who “struggled isolation at first” but has since gained a local academic community, which has resulted in productive new research collaborations.

Additionally, opening up the postdoc pool to remote researchers may result in a more diverse set of candidates.

“The burden of relocation for a temporary postdoctoral position often falls hardest on members of underrepresented groups,” Ingeman added. “So the idea of ​​supporting remote work really strikes me as a matter of fairness.”

Of course, not all postdoc positions can be remote; work in the laboratory and in the field always requires a presence. But as social distancing protocols and pandemic safety measures require research teams to minimize in-person contact or self-quarantine at all times, developing remote research skills may well become an element. part of any early-career researcher’s toolbox.

“Even labs and research groups returning to campus in a limited way may face periodic campus closures, so integrating remote tools now makes sense,” Ingeman said. “Our suggestions for remote postdocs are absolutely applicable to other members of the lab working from home during the closures.”


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More information:
Kevin R. Burgio et al, Ten Simple Rules for a Successful Remote Postdoc, Computational Biology PLOS (2020). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007809

Provided by University of California – Santa Barbara

Quote: Embracing Remote Research Can Benefit Postdocs and Their Research Teams (August 13, 2020) retrieved April 19, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2020-08-embracing-remote-benefit-postdocs-teams .html

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