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Indiana Daily Student

Researching a pandemic while living through it is challenging but rewarding, researchers say

From wanting to work as a first-responder to studying them, Peter Federman, assistant professor at IU-Purdue University Indianapolis's O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, never expected to be researching something he was living through. 

Federman is researching what policies states are putting in place to slow the spread of the pandemic. He and other IU researchers have paused past projects to focus on research regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Trying to study it while you’re dealing with all of the personal and societal implications can be really tricky,” Federman said. “But for me at least, it’s been what’s helping me move forward and get up every day.”

Some IU researchers have been completing research from home, but there are about 500 others completing essential research on IU’s campuses, said Fred Cate, vice president for research at IU.

Essential research, according to IU’s research webpage, includes work related to preventing, containing or treating the COVID-19 pandemic and to national security. It also includes studies that if stopped would cause a safety hazard or loss in significant samples and data in lab, field, longitudinal or seasonal work. If human or animal health, patient care and food security would be affected negatively, clinical trials and agricultural research could also continue. 

IU researchers’ studies range from how kids are learning to how older adults are dealing with isolation to looking at modeling, predictions and medical treatments, Cate said.

“So, all of this has the idea of not really more knowledge, but of actually better coping with COVID-19, which is going to be around for some time,” Cate said.  

Stephanie Andel, an IUPUI assistant professor of psychology, just wrapped up data collection on her research regarding tracking employee experiences in the pandemic. An early finding is that employees who were higher in self-compassion experienced less negative outcomes during the pandemic. She’s currently conducting a study about the experiences of nurses across the country. 

“Generally, a lot of my work focuses on the impact of work on employee health and well-being,” Andel said. “But I can’t really look at that without taking into account what the pandemic is doing to employee health and well-being.”

The way she gathers data has not really changed since moving to online as she usually sends emails, which she said has been helpful. 

Through all of the research and moving some things online, researchers and research staff have had to consider challenges with keeping things secure from cyber attacks, Cate said. However, he said they have found more practical ways to do research through educating and making people more aware of vulnerabilities.

“We’re all living our lives online right now,” Cate said. 

The good things that have come from this have been seeing that the public values research and seeing people realize their best chance to get life back to normal is through research, Cate said. There’s also been an increase in funding through the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, which both received more money from the CARES Act, he said. 

Aside from the research currently going on, the projects that were stopped because of the coronavirus and can restart safely are expected to start back up in June, Cate said. 

But even restarting previous research will be an experiment. If they are able to do this safely, he said this will be a way to test how students might be able to come back safely. 

“That will then help pave the way with how to get students back in classes and campus life,” Cate said.

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