SYNC ànd swim! Starting a new lab during COVID-19
When I decided to start a new lab, I knew it would be an adventure. But I never imagined our first challenge would be to start a lab in quarantine! In April 2020, my lab and I transferred to Erasmus University Rotterdam. In reality, of course, we started from home, but we all tried to make the best of it. Unexpectedly, the new reality made us more creative than we ever imagined. Today we launch the SYNC lab: Society, Youth & Neuroscience Connected, with the ambition to make big steps in connecting developmental neuroscience with societal challenges.
It was a few weeks before the move that we realized we would not be able to see each other on campus for quite some time. All our plans to decorate our offices, have coffee get-togethers and start the collaboratory office (a place where new ideas, programs, codes and experiments could be developed on site) had to be postponed and we realized we had to be creative. We started a Slack group, where channels such as open science, remote meetings, homeschooling and positive news were created. Here, we share novel ideas, newly accepted papers, challenges of combining work and kids, and offer each other help. We got used to using Slack so quickly that I cannot even imagine that I used to write so many emails. Given that everybody is in the same challenging situation, the social support and collaborative effort has been amazing. For example, we now often start the day with a 15-minute Zoom meeting just to give updates and ask for help if needed.
We already had the ambition to work fully remotely and transparently before, but plans were often delayed because of technical difficulties or because it is just easier to stick to old routines. But in times of quarantine, IT support has been fantastic. All the things that seemed to be difficult before, can now be implemented and I am so excited that we are making the transition to working in the most innovative and modern ways. I am lucky to have several open-science-savvy scientists in the lab who have the time and ideas to get this going.
Finally, the pandemic made us realize that this is a challenging time for everybody. We felt a strong need to contribute to a better understanding of the effects of this pandemic on adolescents in the Rotterdam area and Erasmus University based students. We developed a research study on wellbeing, the ethical committee evaluated it through a fast track procedure (for which we are so grateful!) and schools in the area were more than willing to collaborate, because this is a situation that affects us all. The lab picked this up as a joint effort, worked together immensely well, and we are now following over 600 individuals over several weeks to examine how they are feeling and what their opportunities are to help others. Our ambition to connect to a large metropole was established much faster than we thought possible!
I very much realize that this is a time of great challenges and that health and social connection are our most precious goods. Nonetheless, I have experienced a great collaborative spirit, opportunities to work in creative and novel ways, and the opportunity to contribute to societal problems. Despite the challenging times that we are currently experiencing, we are making big steps for science and youth, and we hope to continue to do so in the future.