How Cell Biologists Work ‘at Home” featuring Maitreyi Das

Maitreyi Das is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Cellular Molecular Biology (BCMB) at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN. The Das Lab uses fission yeast, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, to understand how cells use conserved molecular mechanisms to self-organize dynamic cellular processes such as cell polarity and cytokinesis. The Das lab uses fluorescent proteins to tag cytoskeletal proteins and their regulators, the efficient reverse genetics of S. pombe, and quantitative live cell imaging for its research. The lab’s recent publications show how Cdc42 1) contributes to membrane trafficking events at the division site to promote cytokinesis and 2) is spatially regulated through a crosstalk between its activators, the GEFs. We connected with Maitreyi Das through twitter @DasLab_Pombe, and she generously agreed to share her experience as an Assistant Professor during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s start with your Name: Maitreyi Das

Location: University of Tennessee

Position: Assistant Professor

Are you able to work?

I am only able to partially work right now. I am working from home, mainly teaching online and helping graduate students with data analysis. Also, I am still trying to do all the service-related responsibilities that is typical of any faculty. My biggest impediment to working from home has been childcare responsibilities. It is not possible to homeschool a 2nd grader, keep them entertained during a pandemic, and get any reasonable amount of work done.

Maitreyi Das working outside from home during COVID-19 physical distancing.

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

I teach twice a week, have one-on-one meetings with grad students once a week (about four meetings a week), and a weekly lab meeting that is more like a journal club now. In addition to this, I also have meetings for my service responsibilities. With online teaching, currently, I spend a significant amount of time recording lectures and planning online class activities.

The Das lab on a remote lab meeting call.

What are your daily distractions?

Childcare responsibilities are a big distraction. Also, the fact that we are in a pandemic does not help and is very stressful.

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

Not really. We have a loosely structured schedule that changes all the time. As a wet lab, we are not making any progress as we are unable to get any experiments running. This has been extremely stressful for me and my lab.

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

No. I am busier than before.

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

No. I am simply focused on getting through this keeping my sanity and my child and my lab in good spirits.

Anything else you’d like to share?

This period has been most stressful for parents with small children. I am lucky in that my lab just started a couple of grants, so I am not under pressure to publish right away and my tenure process is almost complete, so I do not have to worry about that. I cannot imagine what more junior PIs who are tenure-track and still have not secured external funding are going through.

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