February 2nd, 2021

By Stanley Chu, PhD

Academia is a nomadic path for many of us who are in the early stages of our career. You spend a few years in one place to get your bachelor’s degree, pick up your life and move to go to grad school, move again for your postdoc (and again for your second postdoc), and then move again for your first job. And each time you move you have to start over, from finding housing to finding new friends. Each time is arguably more difficult as the size of your cohort and colleagues (your natural friends) shrink and you become more specialized and unique in your field.

I began my Postdoc tenure at the Montclare Lab in October of 2019. I had moved to New York City from my home in Atlanta. In the first few months, I did my best to find and furnish an apartment, make friends and explore New York City all on a postdoc budget. I spent my first Christmas in New York City alone, deciding that I could not afford to fly back home for the holidays. Instead, I kept myself busy writing a review paper.


In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 outbreak was a pandemic. On that same day, the Montclare Labs shutdown it’s operations and we began to work from home for the next four months. Since we are mainly a wet lab, we had trouble finding any productivity at home, not to mention that most of us are in tiny New York City apartments that don’t have suitable working conditions.

I, like so many others who are starting new chapters of their lives, have faced other challenges. Starting a postdoc during a pandemic has significantly delayed my training. While I was lucky enough to have attended my own graduation, I feel a sadness for those graduates who were unable to have an in-person graduation and for those newly minted PhDs who could not be hooded by their own advisors. I have sympathy for anybody, myself included, who moved to a new city, unable to make new friends who can help support each other through this pandemic.

Now with 2021 beginning, the COVID-19 vaccines are heralding a turning point in this pandemic. The vaccines represent much more than the promise of a “return to normal” life. The vaccines are a perfect example of what science really is. Decades of foundational research conducted by many scientists around the world allowed us to respond to a global challenge. I enter 2021 with a renewed optimism for science and humanity with the hopes that my own contributions to science will one day help the world through another crisis.