We will soon be starting a series on the SDRC Blog from Principal Investigators, sharing their experiences of research over the past few months. Today, we have another blog from Dr Terry Quinn at the University of Glasgow. Terry is sharing tips for researchers during Covid-19, particularly for Principal Investigators. Check our Terry’s blog below. 

 As part of our Scottish Dementia Research Consortium Covid-19 resources, we have been sharing hints, tips and learning from early career researchers whose work has been disrupted by the viral pandemic.

However, no matter how experienced and senior we are, research in the time of covid-19 is something completely new to all of us. It is not just early career researchers who could benefit from some top tips.

So, to get things started, I present my top ten suggestions for Principal Investigators working on dementia research. These are based on my experiences, examples of good practice that I have seen and from chatting with other PIs.


  1. Invest in people

Covid-19 has disrupted every aspect of the research world, but the burden and legacy of the pandemic has fallen disproportionately on early career researchers. Now, more than ever, you need to support the junior members of your team. Otherwise, there is a real danger we lose a generation of the best minds – the future research leaders; the future breakthroughs; perhaps even the future cure for dementia? For the next few months, our focus should be on ECRs – helping them write Fellowships, offering them CV building opportunities; finding ways to create bridging funding to keep them employed.  This is something everyone at SDRC feels strongly about and we are creating webpages of resources to help ECRs – perhaps you have something you can add? If so, get in touch. 


  1. Have a (virtual) open door

Many of us will no longer be in our usual labs or offices. This makes informal interactions with the team difficult.  Sure, we can talk on video calls, but they need to planned, minutes taken etc…. A lot of the best research conversations happen spontaneously in corridors or getting coffee. Also, some people may want to talk about something personal or sensitive that they don’t necessarily want to pre-empt with an email booking a video call. I have always had an open-door policy in my office. Now, for people not working in the office I have set up a virtual open-door meeting with no agenda, no attendee list and space to talk with the group on one-on-one. At the moment, I do this once a month. On reflection, I should probably do it more often – just because I am writing this list, doesn’t mean I get it right all the time.


  1. Walk don’t Zoom

Video meetings are great!

Said no-one.


There are a lot of advantages to video meetings (my carbon footprint is way down) but they are not perfect. One problem with attending meetings via video call is that it is possible to have a whole day segueing from one meeting to the next with no breaks. At least with old style, in-person meetings you had the walk from one office to another for a bit of relief. So, if you aren’t good at making sure you get out of the office for a bit of head space then put some exercise breaks in your diary. This isn’t poor time management, as even a five-minute stroll will clear the head and make the next meeting more efficient.


  1. Take a break

The last few months have been tough. In fact, they have been awful. Unfortunately, the bad times are only just beginning. A second (local or national) spike in coronavirus seems inevitable; starting up teaching and research with social distancing is going to be a logistic nightmare and the funding environment is going to get a lot more competitive. We all need a full tank to tackle the upcoming academic year. So, take a holiday now. While you can. Rest, reflect and re-charge – and I will see you for the second wave. 


  1. Give yourself a break

Show me someone that has used lockdown to ‘finally finish those papers’ or ‘develop that research idea into a grant’ and I will show someone that doesn’t have kids or other caring responsibilities; or didn’t have to make a cupboard double-up as a home office; or didn’t have to go back to full time clinical work. For the majority of PIs, keeping healthy and keeping your team safe was hard enough. Any you did that. So, don’t be hard on yourself.


  1. Keep researching things that excite you

Remember before coronavirus when we all thought that things like dementia, frailty and stroke were important. Well guess what – they still are.

I have seen too many researchers try and reinvent their projects as covid-19 related. The perception that research must be about coronavirus to get funded or published is simply wrong. In fact, most journals are now rejected out right the majority of covid-19 research submitted.  You started working in dementia research for a reason – remember that.   


  1. Be an academic citizen

Let’s be honest, every aspect of research is going to get harder. We all need to work together as a dementia research community to get through the next few years and that means supporting the system that supports you.

I am sure we are all busy with our own papers, grants, experiments and it would be easy to reject all those requests to peer review for journals; or to assess funding applications or to mentor a young researcher. But if you don’t do this work, who will?  This isn’t the time to be selfish with your time.  This is the time to pay something back.  

Of course, Universities have a part to play also and these academic citizenship activities need to properly recognised and rewarded. If you help with SDRC initiatives like our mentoring scheme or webinar series, we will ensure you get certification that you can use for your performance and development review or appraisals.


  1. This is a team sport

The senior academic world is characterised by point scoring and rivalry. During peak covid-19, I was pleased to see how different Institutions worked together for a common purpose. While I was a full-time covid-19 doctor, I spent a lot of time recruiting into RECOVERY and other covid trials – this activity didn’t help my H-index or CV but that didn’t matter. Let’s keep that spirit as we move back to tackling dementia. 


  1. Tell the truth

There is no point in sugar coating the reality of trying to do research in the midst of a viral pandemic.  Money is going to be tight and jobs are not secure. You need to be honest with yourself and your team about this. Don’t promise better things ‘in a few months when this is over…’ as you know, we know, and your team know that this simply isn’t true.  The most important phrase I have used during the last few months is ‘I don’t know’. Part of telling the truth is admitting when things get hard, this can be difficult for senior academics but we sometimes we need to look for help, ask for help and take help if it is offered.


  1. Insert your opinion here

Maybe you agree with all/some/none of the above. I am sure you have your own learning that could help other PIs in the dementia research community. The main purpose of this blog is to get people talking and sharing. Do you have any tips for researchers during Covid-19?  SDRC is your platform – so, get in touch.


We hope you have enjoyed these tips for researchers during covid-19. You can follow both the SDRC and Dr Terry Quinn on Twitter to join in the conversation. Don’t forget to check out our other blogs as well. If you would like to write a blog for us, please get in touch!


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