It was shortly after 2 p.m., and I kept checking the time, concerned about losing track of the day. My job that afternoon was to host my department’s first ever virtual seminar in less than an hour, and I was nervous about how things were going to proceed. Would the Internet connection from my guest’s home be strong enough? Would the technology perform flawlessly? And what exactly was the best way to moderate questions from an unseen audience? At this early stage of the pandemic, the virtual seminar series that would soon flourish had yet to be conceived, and rules governing virtual etiquette were still being established. I kept feeling an urge to log online and make sure everything was in order. And yet, instead I was reading Peppa Pig to my 2-year-old, snuggling with her in my bed as she was settling down for a nap.
I will always remember 2020 as the year in which my roles as a mother to two young children and an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa abruptly merged into one chaotic mess. To reconcile the needs of caring for a 2- and a 4-year-old suddenly at home, with the demands of a full-time teaching and research position, meant very early mornings, careful coordination with my husband’s work schedule, and incredibly long days. A colleague of mine, Marina Cvetkovska, expressed it best, “My days feel like an endless boring Saturday with a hint of panic.”
My story was far from unique: most parents were facing these same struggles. With a new era of Zoom meetings featuring young children climbing onto the laps of colleagues and collaborators rapidly emerging. I found myself asking the question “How can we all pull together to help one another?” Over the course of a few late-night Zoom meetings between myself, Mary Beth Mudgett (IS-MPMI president), Jeanne Harris (editor-in-chief, MPMI), and Dennis Halterman (editor-in-chief, IS-MPMI Interactions), the idea of creating an online forum to promote community and connection during a period defined by self-isolation and social distancing began to take shape.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought unprecedented disruptions to both our personal and professional lives, changing the ways in which we work, network, and even communicate with one another, possibly forever. COVID-19 has also laid bare some of the societal inequities in countries across the globe, and within the structures of our own scientific community, disproportionately affecting early career researchers, for example, as well as women and parents, all of whom are inherently more vulnerable to disruptions in their career and home lives. Yet, the pandemic has also seen scientists and researchers from all disciplines pull together to collaborate on a scale never seen before—with online conferences about vaccine development including virologists, immunologists, oncologists, veterinarians, and at least one plant biologist. I continue to find hope in this.
Now is a time to connect with one another, to strengthen our collaboration, to improve dialogue, and to develop a stronger network that will see us emerge from this catastrophe as a community more united than ever. IS-MPMIConnect is a new, virtual platform that will help us do just that: promote interactions between members, offering support and community to help us overcome the challenges this pandemic has imposed upon us as researchers, teachers, and caregivers—all human beings with multifaceted, complex lives that have been unexpectedly altered this past year. IS-MPMIConnect was originally conceived as a means of fostering a network that would connect those in need of research and teaching support with those able to provide such help, yet this initiative quickly developed into so much more.
We offer IS-MPMIConnect as a venue for our members to facilitate networking, collaboration, discussion, mentorship, and inclusion, with a goal of strengthening our community in bad times and good.