• Catie Thow

COVID Constrained: Part II

The second of a three-part series on graduate fieldwork happening during the COVID-19 Pandemic.


Independent learning is something every graduate student has to learn but, with the COVID-19 guidelines master’s candidate Allison Adams is having to do that more than ever. As a retired professional dancer, Allison returned to academia in 2018 to pursue a master’s degree and contribute to estuarine biology happening here in the Bay Area.

Prior to COVID-19, Allison was typically surrounded by other graduate students and research technicians all contributing to San Francisco Estuary copepod research. She would spend her summers fully employed by the Kimmerer lab in charge of collecting data both in the field and the lab. In the field, this meant summer night research cruises on the Delta collecting water samples alongside her peers. And, in the lab, this translated to simultaneous microscope use and sample processing. It also meant that if you had a question regarding sample collection, lab processing or statistical analyses, you could easily ask for help by knocking on a peer's door.

So, how have COVID-19 restrictions impacted Allison? Well, she spent this past summer only partially employed by the lab collecting copepod samples from sites only accessible via car instead of exciting night research cruises in the Delta. It also means she has to figure a lot of research techniques out for herself. While her fellow cohort and lab mates are very happy to answer questions, for Allison, without the personal interaction, it’s just not the same. Indeed, a large part of graduate school is helping others learn what you already know and disseminating your knowledge to your peers, a sort of scientific game of telephone, only without the errors, thanks to rigorous Standard Operating Procedures. In doing so, the graduate student is able to practice explaining complex scientific information to others and in turn, becomes better at it. Thus they ready themselves to publish papers, defend a thesis or inform the public. Going into graduate school, dispersing knowledge to the public was something Allison hoped to get better at, and, with COVID-19 restrictions, that’s what she misses the most.

In addition to her regular studies, Allison seeks to abate this lack of practice by attending as many virtual conferences and webinars as possible. Personally, whenever I meet with Allison she is always jetting off to some local, national or even international virtual event. Despite COVID-19 restrictions most likely adding 9 months on to her studies, Allison remains thankful for San Francisco State’s proactive response to coronavirus and optimistic about her future research plans. She studies the growth and productivity of the copepod, Pseudodiaptomus forbesi, and its role in the food web of the upper San Francisco Estuary and has adapted her project to use cultured copepods instead of copepods taken in-situ from the Delta.

While this was not her original plan, Allison works tirelessly to stay on track and positive during the pandemic. And, at the same time she’s becoming a pro at independent learning techniques.