Guest post from Jennifer Chaput about the Virtual New England Science Boot Camp for Librarians that took place on June 11, 2020. Find more information and a link to all the recordings https://sites.google.com/view/nesciboot/home
New England Science Boot Camp for Librarians, now in its 12th year, went virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated closures. The traditional format for the conference is two and-a-half days of in-person sessions and activities held at a college or university campus in the region. After campuses were closed in the spring of 2020, the planning committee regrouped and decided to host a virtual one-day conference.
The topics chosen for the virtual bootcamp reflect the current moment in time and included speakers on Virology, Vaccine Development, Libraries Making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and Institutional Review Boards. Our speakers came from around New England and allowed attendees to get a variety of perspectives on science and research in this challenging time.
Dr. Bob Rawle of Williams College began the day by speaking about viruses and the mechanisms of viral infection. While he doesn’t work specifically with coronaviruses, he provided a great overview of what a virus is and what it’s made of, and how viruses infect the body. This talk was engaging and gave background that would be useful for the next speaker.
Dr. Wilmore Webley of UMass Amherst then spoke about vaccine development. Again, while his work does not focus on coronaviruses, he was able to explain the process of how researchers determine what will stop a virus from reproducing in the body, and what needs to be added to a vaccine to make it successful. A takeaway that I found useful to think about is that vaccines do not protect you from getting infected, they protect you from the pathology of the virus and from the illness it causes. Dr. Webley ended with a summary of what the current state of vaccine development for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID19. There’s a lot of work still to be done, but researchers are working hard and constantly collaborating and learning from each other as part of this effort.
The Makers Making PPE panel had speakers giving a perspective on how the community stepped in and began helping healthcare workers and the public get needed PPE. Dennis Spencer of the UMass Amherst Maker Lab, Rebecca Meehan and John Walsh of the Woburn Massachusetts Public Library, and Nancy Maier of Knockout Designs all spoke about their process and what PPE they produced. Nancy Maier spoke about being a hardware fabrication business in a small community and sharing finished items around town and getting to know her community. Woburn Public Library is known for having a maker space and for their 3D printing capabilities, and were happy to produce face shields and other items for nurses and healthcare workers. UMass Amherst was able to leverage their connections, and share patterns and finished items with national networks of makers.
The last speaker panel was on Institutional Review Boards (IRB) and how the pandemic has affected their work. IRBs review and approve any research with human subjects. Dr. Allison Blodgett spoke about UMass Medical School and UMass Medical Center, and Dr. Julie Simpson spoke about the University of New Hampshire (UNH). It was informative to have perspectives from a large medical school and medical center, and also from a smaller state university working with mostly psychological research. Research shutdowns during the pandemic stopped a lot of research, but not all of it. At UMass, the hospital participated in both Remdesivir and convalescent plasma trials for COVID-19 patients. While working remotely was a challenge for their group, they were still able to approve these studies very quickly so that patients could get treatments.. Dr. Simpson from UNH spoke about changes to in-person research they conduct, such as psychology students who volunteer for studies having left campus causing that research to shut down. Other studies, such as with elderly patients, will have to be reconsidered in the future to look at personal risk and safety requirements such as social distancing and PPE.
In between speaker sessions, short recorded interviews called “Tales from the Frontlines” were played. These interviews included perspectives from healthcare and emergency workers, restaurant owners, grocery store workers, and others who continued to work during the pandemic shutdowns. These stories were moving and impactful and showed a different side of life during the pandemic.
The virtual Boot Camp reached a much bigger audience than the traditional in-person conference. A typical Boot Camp has 60-70 attendees from the New England region. Over the course of virtual boot camp we had 581 unique attendees, from all over the world, who watched all or some of the sessions! It was great to reach such a wide audience and provide a free professional development opportunity while people are working remotely.
The 2021 New England Science Boot Camp for Librarians will be hosted by the University of Connecticut Library from June 2-4, 2021. Stay tuned for more information!