How Cell Biologists Work ‘at Home’ featuring Caroline Bartman

Caroline Bartman is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Rabinowitz Lab in the Chemistry Department at Princeton University, where she studies how metabolism changes in cancer and in viral infection. She received her PhD in Immunology at the Blobel and Raj labs at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a seemingly endless font of science puns on Twitter. We asked her how she is handling work at home, surrounded by the temptations of preprints about the coronavirus. She has some great tips* for goal-setting during this sabbatical from the lab (*and from pipette tips…). Thanks for answering our questions and for the nice cherry blossom picture, Dr. Bartman!

A selfie. Note the books in the background–that way I seem more intellectual when I Zoom into lab meeting 🙂 . Photo: Caroline Bartman

Let’s start with your Name: Caroline Bartman, @Caroline_Bartma

Location: Princeton University

Position: Postdoctoral Fellow

Are you able to work? If you are working, where and with whom are you currently working?

I’m working from home.

What is your daily (or weekly) routine? Any regularly scheduled meetings or activities? Anything you really enjoy or really dread?

We have various lab meetings a few times a week–some with the whole group, and some with subsets of people working on related projects. We’ve also been doing informal tea times with lab friends. One of the casualties of the pandemic has been losing chances to chat about science day-to-day, which always can lead to interesting collaborations and ideas. The only dreaded part of this is remembering to unmute myself on Zoom when I try to say something, I have the daily experience of moving my lips in silence to my other lab members, which doesn’t really foster scientific dialogue.

What are your daily distractions?

Reading coronavirus preprints, and especially Twitter updates from the experts on the epidemic and potential therapeutics (Trevor Bedford, Angela Rasmussen, Florian Krammer, and many more). It is exhilarating to see basic science being applied to a huge challenge facing our society. At the same time, it’s also a great reality check for the role of scientists in society. Science can only get you so far, without amazing and motivated policymakers to carry out its recommendations.

I also love to waste time telling bad jokes on Twitter. Seriously, Twitter is a great way to feel that you’re in touch with a scientific community without leaving the house!

Cherry blossoms from a socially distant walk. Photo: Caroline Bartman

Do you have any strategies that are helping you stay productive (or sane for that matter)?

It’s really challenging to work right now, even though I’m lucky enough not to have any sick family members. Current events contribute to a constant simmering anxiety, plus since we’ve been out of the lab around a month, I’ve done most of my to-do list of data analysis of past experiments. My best strategies are to pick a schedule and stick to it. I am smarter in the mornings, so working steadily for a few hours in the morning, and then taking a break is working for me. Also maybe it helps to set overarching goals. If I accept that I’ll be working at home for 1-3 more months, what would I like to accomplish in that time? For example, I’d like to catch up on my literature reading, and I’d like to learn how to wear a face mask to the grocery store without it falling down so that I look like I’m not concerned about the pandemic even though I am, my nose is just a weird shape.

Is there anything you have time for now that you previously kept on the backburner?

I find that since I don’t have any hope of doing experiments in the next two weeks, it really has helped me to take a step back and think about what experiments are actually interesting that I could do in the next year? Or, what are big gaps in my field that I think people should be working on? (For example, the pandemic has really brought to light a gap in our understanding of the metabolism of baked goods, so I’m trying to test out some theories on a practical n=1 level.)

In light of recent events, is there an initiative (or multiple) in which you have taken an interest or active role?

My PI and I wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about the potential role of viral dose in coronavirus infections. It was a way to channel all of our stress-COVID-preprint-reading into something more productive, and to start a dialogue about something that maybe should be considered when setting policy about how to go back to work.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of the author(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of ASCB.

About the Author:

Kira Heikes is a graduate student in Bob Goldstein's laboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is currently studying embryonic development in tardigrades. Twitter: @KiraTheExplora Email: