Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories about how COVID-19 derailed the research of many aspiring Great Lakes scientists. It is edited for length and clarity.
By Amelia Cole
A Minnesota native, Emily Neuman grew up with a love for nature that drove her to pursue a career in biology.
Now a graduate student at Grand Valley State University, Neuman studies starry stonewort, an invasive macro-alga wreaking havoc in the Great Lakes region since 1970. Neuman works with the town of Pentwater, Michigan, to learn more about how this aquatic invader grows and how quickly it’s growing in that community.
She drilled holes in the ice this winter to see how starry stonewort grows during the colder months. And she had planned this summer to snorkel through the areas and sample the plant. The coronavirus has put her fieldwork on hold. Her story:
“I was supposed to start the first week of April, so I’m already behind.
“My adviser and I planned to have one field season, and then the summer of 2021 I would be writing my thesis. So, having to re-plan my whole project basically is really stressful, and not being able to have that face-to-face time in person with my adviser and my committee members is stressful. If I have to wait to do my project, then I’ll potentially have to pay for an extra credit to extend into the fall semester or 2021. That’s not what I wanted to do, but I’m probably going to have to do that.
“So, it kind of sucks to think that this is my first year of grad school. I didn’t plan to have my grad school like this, and I don’t know. I don’t have an answer, which sucks.
“I definitely think the uncertainty, in general, is the hardest part. Just, having to postpone the project that you’ve been working on for a year already, and not knowing if we can go out and do the things that we want to do, and just the abrupt stop.
“We’re currently trying to figure out a plan B if the stay at home order is extended, because scientists obviously aren’t essential. Which is a downer.
“Grand Valley and the Annis Water Resources Institute has worked really well with us through all of this. They’re struggling too; they don’t know the next steps, like everyone else, but they have been really supportive.
“I have some remote work that I can do, but I’m a fieldwork person. I need to be outside; I need to be working on the lake.
“I’ll miss just working with the lake association, with Pentwater, and just seeing the thrill that they have (in) actually having someone entrusted in their lake and working with them and giving them answers on their starry stonewort population.
“It’s good to be able to get outside and work with invasive species and just feel like I’m accomplishing something.
“Being inside and not having any contact with my cohort is tough, and my fiancé can see that it’s bringing me down and that I’m just in a funk, I guess. But we try to get active as much as possible.
“One of my family members could be susceptible to the coronavirus so it’s hard because I know I can’t go back to see my family. So, I haven’t seen them since January. So that’s been really tough—being homesick on top of being at home and trying to figure out what we should do and if I’ll be able to do what I came here to do.”