The Whelan lab officially opened its (virtual) doors in December 2020, and I have to admit that starting my first position as a group leader from my spare bedroom-turned-home office was not exactly how I had pictured the momemnt. But despite the ongoing pandemic, we did manage to eventually get our hands on some lab space and slowly start the wet-lab side of our research in the last few months of 2021. This year we continued our participation in the NSURP initiative by inviting Alexis into the lab; Alexis undertook a really challenging bioinformatic project which earned her the top presentation prize in her category at the NSURP Closing Ceremony! This year we also invited our first PhD rotation student, Jess, into the group and started our very own weekly lab meetings and journal clubs. Despite running these virtually, I did - after a full year of supervision - get a chance to meet Arooj IRL during a trip back to Canada (see image as proof!).
Although we couldn’t go anywhere for most of the year, we did get a chance to share our research virtually. I was fortunate to be invited to speak at McMaster University (Canada), University of Liverpool (UK), and our home institution, the University of Nottingham (UK). We also attended and presented at virtual conferences run by the Canadian Society of Microbiologists (CSM), and the Microbiology Society which both did an amazing job of running these events virtually and building morale amongst society members. We also published research (conducted during my MSCA Fellowship with James McInerney) on selection in the pangenome, as well as contributing to a Perspectives article on model systems used to study cystic fibrosis born out of a workshop hosted by George O’Toole. This year also marked the submission of the first grant and fellowship applications (and the first rejections!).
But most of all, this year was about surviving and getting by. Anyone who says 2021 has been enjoyable or easy didn’t set up a research group this year. But it’s been made all the easier and more enjoyable by having the chance to work with such amazing trainees, thoughtful colleagues, and simply amazing mentors. We come into this job for the scientific-driven curiousity, but we stay for the incredible people we get the chance to meet along the way.