From bad weather to rail strikes or global pandemics, there are several reasons you may find yourself working from home. After writing up any outstanding grant proposals or papers, reviewing the literature, and perusing the endless field of coronavirus news updates, what’s a scientist to do? Brush up on your non-lab skills, of course! We luckily live in the age of the internet, where learning and collaborating is ALWAYS an option – even when you’re confined to the same 900 square feet or less day in and day out. Here are some ideas for learning opportunities and resources that are accessible without going into the lab or the office.
Statistics and Data Analysis
We biologists can ALWAYS use some more statistics knowledge. A strong foundation in statistics will improve your experimental design, help to understand the limitations of studies in the literature, and increase your odds of landing a great job. Thankfully there are a plethora of resources to peruse, including here on Bitesize Bio! Check out our primer on statistics, how to compare multiple datasets, or essential stats tools for flow cytometrists.
For a more in-depth review, look to free online resources like Khan Academy or Harvard University’s free courses. [1, 2] Coursera, Udemy, and EdX are also great options if you are looking to apply statistics in various programming languages like Python, R, or SQL.
Pick up New Software or Tools
There are plenty of everyday applications and online tools that can enhance your research. For instance, if you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of BLAST searches, tools to make primer design a breeze, or how to draw chemicals digitally, you’re in luck!
If you don’t yet use a reference manager, now’s a great time to learn. Check out our articles on EndNote or Mendeley to get started – it’ll make writing papers with more than a few references much less of a headache in the future.
Even software you THINK you know inside and out likely has additional features you’re not familiar with. Take Microsoft Excel, which has over 475 formulas ranging from basic mathematics to more complex logical and statistical tasks, many of which can simplify your data analysis. Microsoft Word has many add-ins, including a writing assistant that improves your grammar and equation editors. 
Practice Presenting Online
It’s very likely you will eventually have to present information online in the future, regardless of whether there’s a global pandemic or not! Presenting remotely requires a very particular skillset, with certain techniques being much more critical than when you’re physically in front of your audience. The tone of your voice is more important, you may need to deal with technical issues expediently, and there are different technological tools you can use to your advantage.
Try out a variety of platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Cisco WebEx, and Skype to get comfortable with these different options. Find a colleague or friend to practice presenting to from home and check out Bitesize Bio’s many articles on giving a good presentation. And don’t forget to configure your webcam while you’re at it!
Take on a New Subject
Ever wanted to find out what the most common sources of bacterial contamination are in food? Or what fungus caused the Irish potato famine? How about how sake is made? Now’s the time!
Give yourself this opportunity to explore a topic that’s not directly related to your research, or maybe not even science in general. Subjects that you’re not familiar with but always wanted to learn more about may serve you well in the future. Gaining knowledge and experience in seemingly unrelated fields can provide you with an innovative perspective and critical thinking abilities that you may not typically employ in your day-to-day life in the lab. 
And Don’t Forget to Pace Yourself
While it may be tempting to plow through and accomplish as much as you did when in the lab, make sure to pace yourself. Burnout can happen just as easily in your room as in the office. Make sure you have a great space to work in your home and take breaks as needed. Create balance and flow every day while you take on learning these new skills.
What skills or new subjects are you tackling at the moment while you work from home? Tell us in the comments below!
- Khan Academy. Statistics and probability. Accessed April 13, 2020.
- Harvard University. Online Statistics Courses. Accessed April 13, 2020.
- Saikat Basu. 20 Best Microsoft Word Add Ins for 2020. Go Skills. Accessed May 4, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Scientific and Technical Information. Innovation and creativity: A critical linkage. January 1, 1987.