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The Origin Story

The Origin Story

Author: Shannon Kozlovich, PhD (she/her/hers)
Editor: Shruti Muralidhar, PhD

We live in interesting times. A global pandemic has found its way to North America at a time when the general United States population is rather apathetic about science and scientists. The number of people who trust the integrity of science and scientists is not growing nearly as quickly as those who have an absolute lack of trust in science and scientists. Yet, here we are, faced with a viral pandemic in the United States, sitting on a mother lode of well trained scientists that span the country. In a time when most people don’t consider turning to our graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, junior faculty members, technicians, and research faculty for assistance in a crisis, Dr. Michael Wells found a way to harness the nation’s scientists and get them to the places where they can help the most.

When COVID-19 began to sweep the nation, we were woefully unprepared. There were few, if any, localities with the testing and contract tracing capacity to be able to manage the local outbreaks. There were also a number of scientists (graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, industry scientists) who were sent home from labs; scientists with the skills to help with testing and contact tracing efforts in their local area. The missing link was the ability to quickly contact local scientists, the missing link was our database. It is fascinating how things can begin in an instant; one thought, one suggestion, one Tweet, a couple of news articles and then, there is a beginning.

The database came into existence with a bang! We had 1,000 scientists sign up on the first day, and 4,000 had signed up by the end of the first week. At that point, we had to get practical. Luckily, we were contacted by End Coronavirus with an offer of collaboration and joining forces. We were connected with individuals who could manage the technical aspects of the database, Kevin Shallert and Aaron Green. And we needed it. The database grew faster than anyone had anticipated, the nation’s scientists wanted to join the fight. Once technical management was under control we turned our focus towards building a government relations team. With the help of Crystal Lantz and Sasha Lukz-Morgan we were able to establish and begin to grow a team who could reach out to government agencies (thank you to SfN Policy Ambassadors program!). We had to shout from the rooftops that we are sitting on a treasure trove! We are now assembling our communications strategy and building a network of local group leaders throughout the country, led by Katerine Mueller and Jonathan Stricker.

As we approach, and eventually surpass, 10,000 scientist members across all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam we are beginning to look at the future. According to the World Health Organization, the primary things a country needs to be able to safely lift stay-at-home orders are a sufficient testing capacity and the ability to swiftly and efficiently trace contacts of infected patients. Our members include experts in scientific testing, bioinformatics, data management, as well as key members willing to donate lab space and testing supplies. Our database is made of members and teams who are willing and ready to donate their time and expertise to their local areas! When scientists, health departments, and policymakers work together, we can safely and quickly accelerate to reach a point where we can reliably vaccinate our population against COVID-19.

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About the author: Dr. Kozlovich holds a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences and works as a tobacco control advocate at an LGBT nonprofit in Los Angeles, CA. Her earnest desire to save the world had led to many interesting volunteer efforts that she wholeheartedly supports, including this one.