Students shouldn’t risk their lives in research labs

A student argues that pausing research or adapting labs to be virtual will save lives at Temple.

As researchers worldwide work tirelessly on a vaccine for COVID-19, undergraduate research at Temple University has essentially been put on hold.

Temple is a R1 university, meaning it is one of the most active research schools in the nation. A wide range of research is conducted at Temple in sociology, psychology, engineering and chemistry labs. COVID-19 has put research unrelated to the virus on the backburner, which is ultimately for the best since our main priority should be keeping students safe. 

Although research will be behind, in-person research should be prohibited until a vaccine or treatment is developed and students are no longer at risk.

Researchers are allowed in lab spaces as long as they are screened prior to participating, regularly sanitize their hands, maintain a social distance and wear personal protective equipment if social distancing cannot be maintained, according to an update for human subject IRB guidance related to COVID-19 posted by the university on July 13. 

While research labs are surely panicking about not reaching deadlines or losing grant money, they should know better than to put students at risk.  

Joan Nicholson, a senior neuroscience major and research assistant in the Center for Applied Research in Decision Making, planned to use heart rate and eye trackers for her independent research project, but because it is now online, she’s had to transition to online surveys, which has affected the quality of it.

“While things go faster online, it is hard to discern how accurate findings are,” Nicholson said. “With anonymity in surveys, people are more likely to click through and not think as critically compared to in a lab setting.”

In-person labs are not sustainable and are likely to close if cases increase. Therefore, labs at Temple must figure out a long-term way to conduct their research effectively online and not require students to physically come into a lab.

Chau Do, a 2020 neuroscience alumna, works with rats at the Center for Substance Abuse Research in the Lewis Katz School of Medicine. Researchers have to work in staggered shifts and perform necessary data analysis at home. 

“COVID-19 hinders learning experiences and makes it harder for my coworkers to train and see what’s needed to be done when working on such a small scale,” Do said. 

In the Cognition and Learning Lab, which specializes in spatial skills and mathematical development, tested students in Philadelphia Catholic schools, according to their website. 

Now, researchers have had to learn how to use Slack, Zoom and email to communicate with students, according to Kexin Ren, a fifth-year psychology PhD student. 

Despite this adjustment, Ren has noticed some positive changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Previously all live research questioned the validity and reliability of online testing,” Ren said. “But this has allowed a more diverse sample and can be done at different times and locations.” 

While this is not the ideal situation for researchers, research groups across the nation are adapting their protocol to make the most of the situation. 

With no vaccine available and social distancing as the only way of preventing COVID-19, research will continue to be delayed, and all undergraduate and graduate research must be conducted online for the foreseeable future. 

Everyone’s safety needs to be a priority in order to ensure the best work is being done. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Kexin Ren was a master’s student. Ren is pursuing a PhD.

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