When COVID-19 first started, laboratories around the world scrambled to make operating decisions with little time to implement changes. Some shut down, some moved to minimal functioning, while the rest did their best to stay partially operational by offering remote access . This ended up costing scientists months — if not years of work.
Scientists are skilled at tackling unexpected problems that threaten their experiments. But the pandemic poses new and unprecedented challenges. As vaccines are currently being rolled out, employment and investments are bouncing back, but it is unclear to what extent research and development will adjust .
Remote research may be extended as a permanent feature
Some of these changes could be extended beyond the pandemic as a permanent feature. If federal and local governments ease lockdown restrictions—the challenges will be enormous. Jan Hrušák, chair of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) emphasizes that research infrastructures have been severely hit by the pandemic. In his opinion, big labs will fine-tune remote access schemes to allow more researchers to send in samples for those projects that do not require their physical presence in the lab .
All large gatherings, including lab meetings and lectures, are likely to be prohibited. And there will be a large difference in strategy between fields. Many institutions are still trying to figure out what to do if infections resurge. Edward Hawrot, a senior associate dean at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, is helping guide his institution’s reopening efforts and explains that it’s not easy to just be able to turn on the lights, walk in the door, and go back to normal .
Changes in the way laboratories function
For years, scientific researchers have traveled for training sometimes on the other side of the country — or even the world — to learn or teach an essential research method under the guidance of an expert.
Traveling to geographically dispersed locations to conduct lab training is not the most feasible option. After the COVID-19 pandemic, several factors such as,
— months of global travel restrictions in a pandemic-ridden world
— the environmental costs of air travel
— the expenses associated with hosting researchers
— the cost of visiting other labs for short-term training programs
have become increasingly apparent and highlight the need for a more practical approach to lab training.
Some experts in the scientific field adapted to using videos for instruction and training such as Dr. Michele Calos, Professor, Department of Genetics, Stanford University. She says “Methods are complex and can only partially be described in words. Seeing the method performed immediately provides a wealth of information to the viewer. This information conveys a realistic idea of how the method is done, what is needed to do it, and helps the viewer analyze how they should proceed.”
Dr. Raja Sriperumbudur, Director of In-Vivo Resource Center at Biogen also highlighted that “Videos are great training tools and serve as visual standard operating procedures in my lab as they are easy to reproduce because you have all the information, down to the reagents.” He is one of many scientists who have been using video demonstrations of experiments to standardize training and research processes in the laboratory — a powerful way to present critical experimental details that are difficult to capture in written Laboratory Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
The pandemic has fast-tracked positive changes
The pandemic fast-tracked changes that were already underway, such as the need for increased automation and remote data collection . The shift to remote research has led to the emergence of some valuable trends as highlighted in a recent article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education on “Lessons in Remote research”;
- The need for remote-controlled lab equipment frees up researchers to go to the lab for a brief amount of time, set up their samples, and leave rather than stay for hours. It is not only more efficient but offers more flexibility regarding when and where researchers work.
- When research moved online, some experts anticipated the beginnings of more partnerships growing across various disciplines, institutions, and geographical boundaries.
- With high-end facilities, top universities have an increased ability to share their work with industry, government, and other colleges that may lack extensive capabilities.
JoVE videos of cutting-edge experiments and standard protocols have helped researchers learn methods remotely, without on-site demonstrations. With JoVE, efficiently disseminating scientific knowledge across cities, countries, or continents has never been easier. Partnering with universities, institutions, and researchers across various geographical locations the JoVE content library continues to expand further to support both researchers and laboratory training.
Need help locating JoVE videos to support your lab’s standardized protocol or training needs? Explore playlists curated specifically to support research laboratories here.
 David Grimm, "‘It will not be easy.’ As labs begin to reopen, enormous challenges remain," https://www.sciencemag.org/, May 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/it-will-not-be-easy-labs-begin-reopen-enormous-challenges-remain.
 Florin Zubașcu, "No going back: How the coronavirus pandemic changed research infrastructures," sciencebusiness.net, June 2021. [Online]. Available: https://sciencebusiness.net/news/no-going-back-how-coronavirus-pandemic-changed-research-infrastructures.
 Justin Chen, "Covid-19 has shuttered scientific labs. It could put a generation of researchers at risk," https://www.statnews.com/2020/05/04/coronavirus-lab-shutdowns-impact-on-scientists-research-delays/, May 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.statnews.com/2020/05/04/coronavirus-lab-shutdowns-impact-on-scientists-research-delays/.
 Alina Tugend., "Lessons from remote research," The Chronicle, 2021.