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UMaine graduate students continue research despite COVID-19 closures

Despite the transition to remote learning for the University of Maine, graduate students are still following through with their research work.

UMaine has made recent changes and precautions for its all laboratories due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which will affect graduate student’s research on a case-by-case basis. Some students are feeling the pressure as they have to adapt their research in a way that accommodates the restrictions set by the university’s policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

MJ Gautrau, a first-year graduate student at UMaine pursuing a master’s in social psychological sciences, is one of the graduate students who has had to adapt to remote learning, along with learning to compensate for the adjustments made to daily UMaine life. .

While working to complete her master’s program, Gautrau works closely with Dr. Shannon McCoy at the McCoy Lab to conduct research on stigmas and discrimination. Another challenge for Gautrau is adapting her position as a teaching assistant, as she works with undergraduate students to facilitate a statistics course.

“Most graduate students wear many hats,” Gautrau said, noting that graduate students are adapting to many roles during the crisis, not just re-learning how to be students.

Gautrau explained that her primary focus in the master’s work she has been conducting involves learning how to design and conduct research while developing professional skills to one day be applicable in the world of research. The research she conducts is primarily on men and masculinity.

“I am very interested in the phenomenon popularly colloquialized as ‘toxic masculinity’ and its implications for both the type of men who display these behaviors and the people around them,” Gautrau said.

Currently, Gautrau is working in collaboration with Dr. Mollie Ruben’s “person perception lab” for the first research venture she describes as a pain study. The collaborative effort explores how gender affects how people perceive and empathize with pain in others of varying identities.

“I feel very lucky that my pain study is all online,” Gautrau noted. “The best thing I’ve learned from my semester and a half of graduate school, research work and [being a teaching assistant] is how to efficiently adapt to change. COVID-19 is just a midterm in flexibility.”

Although Gautrau’s pain study is accessible via the internet, her online study has been put on hold until further notice. Many of the graduate students Gautrau works with face this dilemma.

“Many of the other graduate students in our program have live studies where participants need to come into the lab to participate,” Gautrau said. “Now that campus is closed and those opportunities are gone, we do not have enough research participation spots available for all of the undergraduate students.”

Due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the United States and Maine, the likelihood of students returning to on-campus research opportunities in the coming weeks is slim. The University of Maine System Chancellor Dannell Malloy noted in a press release that he is thankful for the support of the Federal Government and the relief that the CARES Act will provide to students, faculty and administrators who have been displaced in this time of need. The CARES Act is a bill that seeks to provide $2.2 trillion in financial aid to businesses, necessary infrastructure and individuals, which will hopefully aid those who may have lost such a research job or internship.

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