How Cell Biologists Work ‘at Home’ featuring Dave Matus

David (Dave) Q. Matus is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY. The Matus Lab uses in vivo imaging in animal model systems to explore the mechanisms behind complex cell behaviors. One research focus of the Matus Lab is the regulatory networks that direct a specialized C. elegans somatic gonad cell, the anchor cell, to remodel its environment and invade through a basement membrane. These fundamental mechanisms of cell invasion are critical for animal development but are also utilized by cancer cells during metastasis. In a recent preprint, the lab optimized a novel cell cycle reporter to precisely probe cell cycle timing and observe developmental proliferation-differentiation decisions in vivo.

I know Dave from our shared time in the Research Triangle in North Carolina, and he responded to our call on twitter, generously offering to share his lab’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks, Dave!

Let’s start with your Name: David (Dave) Q. Matus

Location: #wfh (in sunny Long Island, NY, specifically East Setauket, about a five- minute drive from Stony Brook University’s campus)

Position: Assistant Professor, Biochemistry and Cell Biology Dept.

Are you able to work?  YES! Everyone and anyone that wants to Zoom with me! My lab is running completely virtually – everyone is either working on papers, reading papers, or ideally both.   

What is your daily (or weekly) routine? Any regularly scheduled meetings or activities? Anything you really enjoy or really dread?

Like most PIs, I’m finding myself somehow busier with more defined things #wfh than before COVID-19. My lab has a close collaboration with Ben Martin’s lab (@Martin_Lab_SBU) at Stony Brook – we were already having joint group meetings every other week before the shutdown, so we decided to make it weekly – we meet every Monday at 11:00 am, and everyone in our group gets 1 slide/~5 minutes to tell us something they’ve been working on. It ranges from a figure for a paper they’re writing to data from a paper they came across that they thought was really cool. Wednesdays we have a joint journal club with the Martin lab also, and our labs alternate picking papers for each week. The Zoom format for j-club has taken some getting used to, as it is voluntary for people to pick a figure they want to discuss as we go through the paper, and there can be some awkward silences where no one wants to speak up. Ben and I have been thinking about creating a wheel with everyone’s name on it to add some excitement! Fridays we have a virtual happy hour @ 4:30, which started off mostly with my and Ben’s lab, but has morphed into mostly faculty in our department – I’m betting our trainees are having their own PI-free happy hours now J.

I will say that our faculty zoom happy hour might have been instrumental in recruiting a new faculty member to our department who was weighing a couple of offers (obviously b/c of how cool we are!).

Teaching via Zoom has been really challenging and much more work than IRL. My postdoc, the amazing Rebecca Adikes (@radikes) and I are co-teaching a CURE (Course Based Undergraduate Research Experience) course with Jerry Thomsen, from my department. It’s a capstone class in developmental genetics for ~50 mostly graduating seniors. We had just shifted from bootcamps to doing actual experiments when we shut down, so as you can imagine it’s really hard to give students a lab experience virtually – we’ve done some data analysis, Zoom presentations, and how to read peer-reviewed literature. But it’s an incredible amount of time and effort for the instructors and TAs (huge shout out to our amazing TA and my master’s student, Maryam Azmi for all her hard work in the course!).

Finally, attending TAGC virtually was fantastic, and I was such a #ProudPI to see three of my trainees give amazing talks (@TMedwig-Kinney, @m_a_q_martinez and @radikes)! They each spoke to audiences >600 people – I don’t think I’ve ever given a talk to that many people and the feedback has been fantastic.

Dave Matus’ #wfh setup: “the typical two monitor.” This was during the TAGC Meeting when graduate student Taylor (@TMedwig-Kinney) was giving a talk during one of the C. elegans sessions.

What are your daily distractions?

#NewPI_slack is always a welcome distraction, I’m not an avid poster, more of a lurker, but it’s an amazing, supportive community! Twitter of course too! It used to be sports (big NBA, NCAA and NFL fan)… so… not sports? Also, our #fur_babies Artemis and Iki sleep in that chair (see photo) literally all day long! I think my students think they are fake during Zoom meetings. Beyond that, spending more time with family (pleasant distractions)!

Matus’ Zoom buddies, Iki (L) and Artemis (R), doing what cats do best: sleeping and wishing we’d all go back to work!

Do you have any strategies that are helping you stay productive (or sane for that matter)?

Well, keeping to a schedule of some kind seems really helpful. So, in theory… on good days we get up around ~7:00 am, exercise (we have these Jilian Michael’s exercise DVDs (Yoga, etc) that are painful, now that it’s finally getting nice on Long Island we can go running. We wake our girls (Maile age 12 and Bria age 10) around 8:00 am for breakfast and so they can log in online for virtual school, and then we both go to work. We eat lunch together around noon most days, and we go for a walk when it’s nice out (with masks and social distancing!) in our neighborhood around 5:00 pm. At night we watch some TV with the girls – we’re currently binging our way through the old BBC show Merlin – we watched it when they were babies, but like most of that time period of my life, it’s all just hazy sleep-deprived memories… so it’s been fun re-watching it with them!

Is there anything you have time for now that you previously kept on the backburner?

Like many of you, I LOVE to cook and all the Facebook and Twitter posts about baking bread convinced me to start baking bread. My daughter, Maile, loves to bake too, so she’s doing all the dessert baking these days, and I’m focusing on breads. I have to say, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be! I’m getting pretty good at the no-knead/dutch oven breads with the long rise (they are SO forgiving, see photo) but my more traditional loaves have been pretty pathetic (data not shown)!

A lovely looking loaf from Dave Matus, which he described as the product of his “gratuitous #covid_cooking.”

In light of recent events, is there an initiative (or multiple) in which you have taken an interest or active role?

I guess I’ve become a little more active on social media, mostly Facebook, as I try to keep my Twitter account as more of a “Matus lab” twitter, interacting with my non-scientist friends wading through all the bad press coming out about the origins of the pandemic.

Anything else you’d like to share?

In my alternate life, I moonlight as a jazz artist, and I told myself that I would use this time to get better at flute (I play sax and clarinet and sometimes need to play flute on big band gigs), and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only practiced twice. My youngest daughter, Bria, on the other hand, has been practicing piano every day – so she’s much more dedicated to her music than I am.

Also, if you like live imaging, @radikes and I are co-hosting a NOW VIRTUAL symposium for the upcoming Society for Developmental Biology (SDB) Conference featuring a collection of amazing early career researchers at the intersection of biological imaging/building/analysis tools. More info here!

And of course, I hope to see everyone IRL in December in Philly if we can!

Is there another biologist that you think is handling this situation with creativity/amazing productivity/an interesting perspective?

For those of you on Twitter in the Cell/Developmental Biology field, it took a pandemic to get the great John Wallingford (@jbwallingford) to start Tweeting, but he’s been giving daily advice on science writing.

More generally, I’m super impressed by all of the scientists and trainees that made the hard pivot to immediately helping directly with COVID-19 research and anyone that is just trying to stay sane and survive #wfh with small children, homeschooling, etc. We are really fortunate that our girls have taken to #wfh with amazing grace.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of the author(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of ASCB.

About the Author:

Jenny Heppert studies the cell biology of host-microbe interactions. She is currently a postdoc with Heidi Goodrich-Blair at the University of Tennessee. Twiiter: @hephephooray