How Cell Biologists Work ‘at Home’ featuring Tanner Fadero

Tanner Fadero is a PhD candidate in Quantitative Biology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, in Dr. Paul Maddox’s lab, in the Department of Biology. Tanner studies cell division and develops new microscopy-related technologies, an area in which he holds several patents. In the interview below, Tanner shares how he’s adjusting to working outside of the lab, and how he’s contributing to the ongoing efforts to support healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients.

Let’s start with your Name: Tanner Fadero

Location: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Biology

Position: PhD Candidate

Are you able to work? Yes! I’m currently working with Paul Maddox at UNC-CH, although I do all of my “lab work” fully from home now.

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

My day varies depending on whether or not I’m scheduled to volunteer that day (more on that later). If I’m not scheduled that day, I normally sit down at my “desk” by 10:00 am. I’ve converted our kitchen table into a nice analogue of my desk at lab–complete with office chair, monitor, backup drives, etc. As for actual research, I’m mostly running optical simulations for our latest microscope design in MATLAB. There’s only so much code I feel like I can stare at per day, though. I definitely miss the ability to hop between the computer and the microscope at will!

Our lab is still participating in journal club (in fact, we’ve increased this from semi-weekly to weekly during quarantine), weekly joint lab meeting with Amy Maddox’s lab, and a weekly 5:00 pm happy hour where we chat about whatever over drinks. All of these meetings have become virtual over the past month, but I still find myself enjoying the scientific interactions. Having incentive to read papers and actively listen to others’ science is good for my mental state. I still feel the same dread over my own scientific presentations to my lab members, but it doesn’t seem any worse than before quarantine. I worry about my productivity occasionally, but it’s incredibly helpful to have an understanding and flexible PI.

What are your daily distractions?

My cats, mostly. They enjoy us being at home, maybe a little too much. They’re frequent (although welcome!) guest speakers in my partner’s classes and my lab meetings. They were used to attention only in the mornings and the evenings, so they’re very excited to be able to ask for treats and pets at any time.

Tanner in his home office, and his cat, Toast. Photo: Tanner Fadero

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

Daily walks around my neighborhood always make me feel more energized and alert, although I suspect a lot of people are using that strategy from the number of people I see also out and about. I’m also very fortunate to have a partner in quarantine with me–we’ve helped each other stay sane as our respective academic activities moved completely remote.

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

Scientifically speaking, I feel like I have more time to get caught up on the recent literature in my field. I find myself browsing Twitter for the latest bioRxiv preprints more often than when I was sitting in lab.

On a more personal note, I definitely have more time to plan my Dungeons & Dragons campaign! I host a weekly game for several close friends, including several labmates. Everyone seems to be having a good time and enjoying role-playing a character that isn’t in the middle of a pandemic.

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

The main activity that I’ve recently taken up is volunteering with UNC’s Makerspace (BeAM) to assist in their efforts to produce face shields for UNC health workers. It’s an impressive operation, and I’m happy to contribute my time. I have used BeAM in the past for my research (3D printing for microscope prototypes), so I hopped on board as soon as they put out the call for volunteers. It’s an incredibly professional, smooth, and hygienic operation. We all wear face masks and maintain a 6-foot-radius around each other and the workstations. I haven’t yet seen official statistics on the total output, but the entire operation regularly produces between 2,000-3,000 shields per day. My personal total to date is 550 shields! It’s a great feeling to watch that number increase and to know that I’m helping to provide critical PPE to the real heroes in this pandemic. I also feel that my efforts are made much more efficient by the other organizational and production teams working with me. There’s no way I could put in 20 hours/week and have anywhere near the same output on my own.

Volunteers spread out throughout the Murray Hall makerspace over the weekend manufacturing shields. Photo: UNC Be A Maker (BeAM)

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thanks for doing this! I can’t wait to read about what other cell biologists are doing in quarantine.

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

The first person who comes to mind is Bob Goldstein at UNC-CH. He is an active at-home screen-printer (making awesome posters for science talks and other things), and I’ve seen his efforts shift recently to making posters to visually inform the public about CDC recommendations.

NOTE: BeAM photo originally published in “Fire up the engine” on April 6, 2020.

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