Virtually zooming through the pandemic: The SLS Research Staff Association in 2020

Published on 11 January 2021

Last year was unlike any other, with no exception for the School of Life Sciences Research Staff Association (SLSRSA) at the University of Dundee.

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If you are unfamiliar with SLSRSA, there’s a clue in the name – we are here to represent research staff within the SLS. We are a small group of volunteers, mainly post docs and research assistants, who seek to improve our fellow community through social events, career development assistance and networking opportunities.

Our year began with the arrival of a new committee chair, Natalie Bamford, a post-doc in The Division of Molecular Microbiology (MMB) who recently moved to Dundee from Canada. After our first physical event (a networking coffee morning) was cancelled due to the impending first lockdown in March, Natalie truly made the best of a bad situation by leading our successful changeover to a digital existence including virtual committee meetings and events.

In response to stay-at-home measures, we created a virtual SLS community on Slack to share ideas for online career development and ways to relax when working from home. We also re-launched our “Careers in Academia and Beyond” seminar series as a regular virtual event.

Every month since mid-lockdown, we invited 2-3 guests to share their career experiences to a virtual audience of as many as 90 SLS staff and students. The chance to build new connections with these guests without the usual geographical boundaries has surely been a silver lining of working from home. Many of these guests previously worked or studied at the SLS, including a panel of recently appointed group leaders who shared with us their trials, tribulations and tips on establishing a new lab.

The majority of our speakers hailed from “beyond academia” and their roles have been extremely diverse, ranging from research and sales roles in biotech companies, to legal roles in technology transfer, all the way to property investment. This has highlighted the world of opportunities and career paths available to anyone studying for a PhD in Biosciences, with traditional academic routes just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Although the days initially crawled by during lockdown, the months later ‘zoomed’ past as marked by the seemingly rapid recurrence of this event. We would like to thank everyone who has organised, chaired, attended or participated in these seminars and contributed to their overwhelming success.

Looking ahead through 2021 we’ll continue to organise engaging virtual seminars to keep you inspired and motivated until the eventual easing of social distancing measures. With vaccinations underway, this is likely to be sooner that we could have optimistically hoped at the start of the pandemic. Following a return to normality, we eagerly anticipate being able to organise in-person meetings and events once again.

Each SLS division has at least one representative on our committee, so if you have any ideas or concerns feel free to pass these on to be discussed at one of our regular meetings. Or why not join us? We always welcome new members!

Don’t forget to keep up to date with SLSRSA activities & events by following us on twitter (@SLSRSA_UoD) and checking your inbox regularly. We have a fund to support postdoctoral researchers with their career development – applications are welcome all year round.

We wish all SLS members a happy (and hopefully more normal) new year!

Written by Alex Agrotis (SLSRSA Media Coordinator) and edited by Nicola Darling (SLSRA divisional representative for MRC PPU).

Story category Staff