Sunday Apr 02, 2023

Challenge Upon Challenge | Harvard Medical School – Harvard Medical School



This article is part of Harvard Medical School’s continuing coverage of medicine, biomedical research, medical education, and policy related to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the disease COVID-19.

Ruth Franklin could hardly believe her luck. After three years working in a developmental biology lab in college, two years as a research technician, six years earning a PhD in immunology, and another six years training as a postdoctoral fellow, she was finally starting her own lab—and at Harvard Medical School, no less.

As a newly fledged principal investigator, or PI, Franklin couldn’t wait to take the wheel and steer her own research endeavors, move into a space optimized for her particular work, hire a team, and get to know her world-class colleagues.

There was just one catch: It was July 2020, and COVID-19 had slammed the brakes on science careers the world over.

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Construction on the HMS campus had ramped down that spring as part of university and statewide efforts to protect community health, so Franklin’s space couldn’t be set up before she arrived from Connecticut.

A fellow faculty member gladly gave her a bench in his lab, but the tight quarters meant Franklin could order little of the equipment she needed and hire only one person to help get her research started. Pandemic-driven occupancy limits required the pair to work in alternating shifts, further slowing progress. As the months wore on, supply chain shortages loomed.

Everyone knew the situation couldn’t be helped. No one wanted to risk their own or others’ safety or flout guidelines. Still, Franklin, assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative biology, couldn’t shake a sense of anticlimax.

“You’ve been given this role and responsibility as leader of a lab. You’re ready, you’re excited to get started, and you can’t,” she recalled. “It was very hard.”

It would be nearly a year before relaxed restrictions allowed HMS staff and contractors to complete Franklin’s lab. The joy that followed felt all the stronger for its delay.

“It was amazing. I was so happy to see the lab operational and get equipment set up and start doing experiments,” said Franklin. “My group, one other junior faculty member, and a more senior faculty member all moved in together, and it felt like immediate lab family. And then I was able to have students start.”

​​​​​​Ruth Franklin, …….


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