Going buggy during the pandemic lockdown.

Going Buggy During the Pandemic Lockdown

By: Kim Thompson, Research Technician, Willis Lab

Kim Thompson, Research Technician in Dr. Mark Willis’s lab, with her charges (Manduca Sexta moth and caterpillar).


In March 2020, when we first heard that the semester was going to continue remotely, and as students were making arrangements to head back home, I had to quickly come up with a game plan to figure out how to care for our lab’s research insect colonies. Up until that moment, most of our day-to-day animal care was usually divided among several undergraduate student employees and myself. 

The first few days after the campus began to shut down were uncertain and a bit scary. Everything about coming to work was different. Safety protocols were being implemented and updated frequently and things with Covid-19 were changing rapidly. 

My student employees and I were a close knit group, and it was very difficult for all of us when they had to leave. I began a group text message with everyone from our lab and started to message everyone often as a way to stay connected. I think it helped all of us and it was a great way for me to share pictures and updates of what was going on in the lab. Five of the students in our lab were graduating seniors this last May and it was especially difficult to see them miss out on graduation after all the hard work they put in. 

With our student lab helpers gone, I was working all day 6 days a week to maintain the insect colonies, but I felt lucky to not only still have a job, but to be able to leave the house to go somewhere I felt safe working. It was very strange how empty it was around DeGrace Hall and on campus in general.  Over the course of the summer, a “new normal” established with daily boxed lunches provided by CWRU from Tomlinson Hall and the occasional sighting of a grad student or other staff member. This was definitely a surreal experience and through this period my mood went up and down like a rollercoaster.   

Once decisions were made at the University level on how and when to reopen the campus safely, I began to prepare our lab for the eventual return of people. It was an anxious time. No one really knew for sure if this was going to go well but we had prepared under the protocols and changes required and hoped that was enough. Near the end of August our lab was given the green light to open back up and within a couple of weeks we were able to bring back a few of our student employees. Although lab protocols have changed, our crew adapted quickly and it has been great to see some familiar faces around the department again…even if it is from 6 feet away with masks. 

Right now I’m concentrating on continuing to keep everything running smoothly while ramping up active research again, and I look forward to more stable times and to safe reunions with my students, coworkers, and friends.