Supporting our students during Covid

The coronavirus pandemic has already established a far-reaching effect on all of our resides, and The Institute of Malignancy Research, London, like numerous organisations, has spent a lot of the previous few months coping with its fallout.

As our labs closed, there is a specific challenge to guide our PhD college students who would usually be conducting experiments for his or her projects and also have faced passing up on vital research period.

With infection prices rising rapidly, the ICR advised all staff and learners who can work from home to take action on 16 March. Our lab experts continued ahead in for a couple of days longer – but quickly, we’d to inquire further too to stay in the home because of their own safety. The ICR’s vital malignancy research – aside from several remaining lab research and our computational function – found a halt.

Since then, we’ve been listening carefully to the PhD students whose work and studies have already been so disrupted, to ensure they still get every possiblity to obtain the most possible out of these projects. As you example, Sarah Ash happens to be in the 3rd year of her PhD project considering immunotherapy as cure for breast cancer metastasis. She describes how she felt in the past:

“At the right time, everything happened so quickly so we didn’t genuinely have time and energy to think – it absolutely was more like grab your computer and go home! For me luckily, I didn’t have any big experiments going on at the time so I didn’t lose anything – it was more about any plans that I had for the next few months that had to be put on hold.”

Since then, even while our labs have reopened during the last two months, Government travel restrictions and social distancing measures have continued to own consequences for many our researchers, including our PhD students. It’s been important to ensure we respond quickly to concerns since they are raised and to give you the best support we could.

Mitigating the disruption

While a number of our research students could spend the months of lockdown doing computational research or writing up their theses, others – in the exact middle of programmes of ‘wet lab’ research’ – are finding their work delayed by months.

Under the guidance of her supervisors, Sarah decided that probably the most sensible action to take was to begin writing up her thesis: “I spent all the absolute lockdown period writing the introduction of my thesis, that has been painful but it’s almost done now and I’m sure I’ll be very grateful in a year’s time!”

We made several changes to your processes to aid our students towards submitting their thesis in as timely a fashion as you can. These included providing the chance to request an extension for their studies, along with temporary changes such as for instance permitting electronic thesis submission and remote vivas. As numerous of our clinical PhD and MD(Res) students were seconded into NHS frontline duties, we accordingly adjusted their deadlines.

Adjusting to the ‘new normal’

We were aware that the impact of the pandemic could have consequences that rise above our students’ academic progress. The ICR in addition has provided an accumulation resources to simply help support the physical and mental wellbeing of our staff and students. As an example, all our students gain access to trained wellbeing advisors and the ICR’s 24 hour Employee Assistance Programme.

We also caused it to be a priority to help keep our students and their supervisors updated since the situation has continued to evolve.

“Overall, I do believe we’ve had a good experience under such difficult circumstances,” says Sarah. “We’ve had separate strings and briefings of emails explaining things and how we’re planning to be affected.”

In early June, ICR scientists started the gradual go back to our laboratories – following strict security precautions. Day of reopening sarah was grateful to have the opportunity another on the first. She describes what it’s been like time for the bench:

“In the beginning, it felt very surreal as there have been so few people in the building – but with time it’s accumulated as more individuals are finding its way back,” she says. “We’re still missing most of the social aspects that people had as friends – such as opting for our morning coffee together – but it’s slowly needs to feel more back once again to normal.”

We’ve lost many vital research hours to the coronavirus crisis nevertheless the requirement for our work keeps growing. Please help us kick-start our research to produce up for lost amount of time in discovering smarter, kinder and much more effective cancer treatments, also to ensure cancer patients aren’t getting left behind.

Networking and events

The cancellation of events meant which our students could be passing up on vital opportunities presenting their work, network with others, and meet up with colleagues.

In March, because it became evident that large gatherings were unlikely to be possible, we start planning exactly how we could online run the ICR conference. This was initially this complex event has been run virtually, and so we had a complete lot to learn – and quickly.

We are incredibly proud that we was able to successfully deliver a lot of the planned sessions throughout the two-day event in June, including informal social events to encourage wellbeing and networking for both staff and students.

Sarah was very happy to have had the ability to go to and present her just work at the event.

“I enjoyed it – and I certainly need certainly to applaud the team behind it simply because they overcame every one of the various technical challenges very well!” she says. “ I thought it had been good really, particularly given the short period of time they’d to pull it together.”

Looking ahead

With the herpes virus in circulation still, we’re continuing to adjust to the situation to cut back disruption for the students within the coming months.

We want to fully restart our taught course – the MSc in Oncology – in a learning online format in October. We’re seeking to implement approaches to maximise the interactivity of the course.

We will also be continuing our about to welcome our new research students. We will give them assistance with how life as students can look – in and not in the lab – later on. This will include a plan of potential scenarios in the events of future outbreaks of herpes.

Sadly, we’d to take the difficult decision to postpone this year’s Awards Ceremony. It’s usually among the highlights of the ICR’s calendar and offers a way to celebrate the achievements of our students, and people that have made crucial contributions to the ICR. Year we’ve booked larger rooms for next, both to allow for more graduates also to permit any social distancing measures that stay static in place.

Safety and excellence

In the face area of unprecedented challenges, the ICR had to behave quickly to conform to the immediate consequences of getting to pause our wet lab research – also to implement new methods for trying to support our students while they come back to the labs.

We are confident that individuals can provide a protected surroundings for world-class cancer research – by which our students can continue steadily to excel.