Meet the WinRs: Monica M. Laronda, PhD

Assistant Professor in Pediatrics at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern University


What is your background/current position and what does it entail?

I am an Assistant Professor in Pediatrics at the Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute at Lurie Children's Hospital and Northwestern University.

What impact has being quarantined had on your daily activities and position?

I have had to make some tough decisions about furloughing our staff and limiting our lab activities to essential research with donated human specimens. Like many labs we were trying to gather some preliminary data for grant submissions and performing replicates for thesis projects and papers. On a positive note, I have been allowed to focus on writing grants in a more flexible and controlled environment and have used more publicly available data to supplement our preliminary data and support a hypothesis.

There has been additional coordination and adjustments made to maintain our Fertility & Hormone Preservation & Restoration team at Lurie Children's while considering our staff at increased risk for COVID-19, training others as back-ups for essential tasks, and modifying protocols that enable telemedicine. I am also the coordinating faculty member for our shared lab space and work with other PIs to create new lab norms for each Phase of the pandemic response.

Because we are not traveling, I am participating in meetings and conferences virtually. While recording sessions and watching online from home has been fun in some ways, I miss meeting, interacting and networking with colleagues and senior members of our research communities. While I understand the reduced negative impact that virtual conferences have on the environment, I think that those interactions are critical for an early stage investigator and I hope that we can return to in person conferences soon.

What strategies have you adopted in order to create a new "normal" for your daily activities and position?

There is slightly more flexibility in when I do things. I run or exercise when there is a break in my work instead of at the same time in the morning and I eat when I'm hungry and can stop what I'm doing for a few minutes. I've also noticed that my Saturdays and Sundays are becoming more and more like my weekdays.

Have you gained any valuable lessons from being in quarantine?

I have tried to adapt and engage trainees with different learning styles. This is challenging for me because I prefer to interact with people in a casual face-to-face way instead of making a scheduled appointment like a call or Zoom meeting. Videoconferencing does work well for some, and that has been something that I've gotten more accustomed to. I have also tried to be more patient and considerate of the situation that colleagues or trainees find themselves in during these challenging times.

What expectations have you had to let go or remove from your daily activities and position?

The biggest adjustments for me are not being able to use our Chicago lakefront. I would run or bike to work along the Lake Shore path almost every weekday prior to the shutdown and run and hangout there on the weekend with my husband. We would have also started sailing in May out of a nearby harbor. We would have spent time in person with family and friends. I had several trips planned since the end of March for conferences and to see family which have been canceled. My husband and I also enjoy going to restaurant and bars and spend our weekends doing that.

How have you stayed connected with friends and family during this time?

We have stayed connected with family through FaceTime and Zoom. I enjoy playing online games with the adults, but I miss hugs from and interacting with my younger nieces and nephews!

What will you do differently once you return to your position?

Our lab is opening when we are still being encouraged to work from home when possible and gatherings of more than 6 people are discouraged. I will be holding office hours 2-3 days per week while still working from home for the majority of time. We will continue to use Zoom for lab meetings and journal clubs. This enables our summer students who are still not allowed to be in the lab, to interact and gain some exposure to research.

What are you most excited to do once the pandemic has cleared?

I am most excited to be physically back in lab with my trainees and staff, traveling, visiting with family, using the Lake Shore path and eating in restaurants.

What words of inspiration would you like to share to other women in science and the future generation of women in science?

In general, I think that it's important to reflect on experiences and try to learn something about yourself or your team that you could use to improve morale or productivity. It's challenging when most work deadlines don't change and milestones like thesis defenses and graduations are greeted with less fanfare. It's important to still recognize accomplishments and realize that we're all in this together. Keep going.