Anastasiya Plotnikova, an undergraduate student majoring in biology and marine science at the University of Miami

Research continues amid coronavirus disruptions as students and faculty adjust

By Ashley A. Williams

Research continues amid coronavirus disruptions as students and faculty adjust

By Ashley A. Williams
Anastasiya Plotnikova, an undergraduate student majoring in biology and marine science at the University of Miami, and her mentors share their experience of research away from the lab.

Adjusting to the impact of the novel coronavirus, which has resulted in the University of Miami shifting to online teaching and learning, students and faculty members are finding unique ways to keep research projects ongoing.

For senior Anastasiya Plotnikova, her research involves determining the effects oil has on toadfish. Modeled after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, her study’s objective is to better understand how the stress response of toadfish is impacted by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by measuring their vitals after being exposed to an acute stressor. 

Undergraduate student researchersSince the start of her junior year, Plotnikova has been working in professor Danielle McDonald’s marine biology and ecology lab at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Since the shift to remote learning because of COVID-19, Plotnikova continues data analysis on the topic from her family home in Miami as she prepares to virtually present her senior thesis project.

“I was looking forward to sharing my poster at the annual Research, Creativity, and Innovation Forum [RCIF] this year,” Plotnikova said about the annual celebration for current undergraduates. “It’s a great opportunity to receive feedback from the judges, and it allows students to share knowledge and make connections across disciplines.”

Jane Indorf, assistant director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Community Outreach, is working closely with her team to produce an electronic abstract book to highlight those students who would have presented at the annual forum that was scheduled for March 31. Normally, students would present their research to an in-person audience that includes students, faculty and staff members, and others from the University community.

“I’m thankful that I’ve been able to resume connection with my mentor and the judges of RCIF in a virtual way,” Plotnikova said. “It’s a special opportunity to widen and build not only your breadth of knowledge but also contribute novel ideas to your field.”

McDonald, Plotnikova’s mentor, said her students are adjusting as best as they can.

“We have essentially shut down the lab and my students are doing work at home,” McDonald said. “We are holding regular lab meetings on Zoom and are trying to come up with activities to help.”

For instance, McDonald has implemented a journal club, giving students an opportunity to present and have open discussions via Zoom about a scientific paper found in a recent research journal.

McDonald shares this advice on how students can make the best of the online learning experience. “Use the time to read up on your area of research and think about your future experiments so when you get in the lab, you will be well-prepared and your experiments will be well thought out,” she said.