Andrew Raub, a doctoral student in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering has received a highly selective Belgian American Education Foundation (BAEF) fellowship. BAEF is the leading independent philanthropic organization supporting the exchange of university students, scientists and scholars between the United States and Belgium. He is set to travel to Belgium later this year.
We recently caught up with Raub, to get his views on how he and his fellow researchers are adapting to life during the coronavirus pandemic, and what he is looking forward to as school begins this fall.
Q: What were some of the challenges to transitioning away from lab research?
A: When the stay-at-home order was implemented, I count myself and my lab mates fortunate that we already had procedures in place for putting all our equipment into a safe shutdown mode. While the situation was rather unexpected, I think faculty and staff did a fine job of responding to it. In particular, our laboratory safety coordinator, Billy Schmuck, and Professor Steven Saunders helped greatly in keeping us informed of changes in policy and providing training for hundreds of us on how to use Zoom, respectively.
As a teaching assistant for CHE 433, transitioning this course to an online format was challenging because it normally requires groups of students to come into lab and conduct experiments. Over the week of spring break, the professor for the course, Dave Thiessen and I spent a few long days in lab on behalf of the students to generate data sets for them to use in their final reports.
We continued meeting with groups of students each week via Zoom and offered guidance on data analysis and report writing. While it is unfortunate that the students did not have the opportunity for much hands-on experience operating their equipment, I noticed that they did very well overall on their reports. I think that once-a-week virtual meeting with them was effective in clearing up confusing points about theory and how to analyze the experimental data. The students also deserve recognition for adapting to drastically different circumstances and working together remotely to complete their projects/coursework.
Q: How are you keeping engaged in your research and with your colleagues?
A: To be completely honest, staying engaged with my research during this time has been difficult.
Working from home has meant that most of my time has been spent on reading literature and writing. My colleagues and I are pleased to say that we have produced a fine manuscript for a paper during this time, but it still feels like there has been a lack of balance– I like to switch up my reading and writing with working in the laboratory.
My advisor, Norbert Kruse, and my colleagues have consistently met each week to check in with each other and discuss the drafting of our paper. Our plans for this year may have been significantly hindered, but we are still moving forward together. That alone, I would define as a success in the context of this year’s events.
Q: How are you staying healthy?
A: When the stay-at-home order was issued, and a new reality began to sink in, I realized that it would be vitally important to adapt to stay engaged and keep from being socially isolated.
Some friends and I organized trivia nights and game nights each week via Zoom.
Video conferencing with family frequently and stepping outside and practicing martial arts in the street via Zoom or going for bike rides have also helped break up the monotony of staying at home.
Q: What’s next?
A: I am excited that we are nearing a point where some laboratory activity will be resuming. The research environment is going to look different than it did before the pandemic, and we are drafting plans for safely resuming lab operations while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
With time, I imagine this situation will improve. I am particularly looking forward to going abroad to Brussels, Belgium in the fall as part of my BAEF fellowship. At the Université Libre de Bruxelles I will continue my research on methyl formate hydrogenation to chain-lengthened hydrocarbons, which is important because it is an unexplored way of synthesizing certain chemicals that are traditionally derived from crude oil.