Effective March 19, 2020, all of our non-essential on-site research activities will be paused. Please check your RTC registered email for our weekly Newsletter, Staying Connected.
We are launching this special RTC Newsletter. The goal of this is to provide useful updates and a wide range of relevant information that can help you to stay connected and productive during these challenging times. We hope that the need for this Newsletter will be as short lived as possible. However, we recognize that maintaining and supporting our community is especially important now. We hope you will find our Newsletter useful. We welcome suggestions as well as content from all of you. Please refer to the Unity Health COVID microsite for all updates.
We would like to include new topics in the Newsletter based on your ideas and requests. However, we need help to do this. We are looking for volunteers to work with us to create content for the Newsletter. You can contribute on a regular basis, or just once, as your time permits.
We continue to closely monitor the evolving situation with COVID-19. In order to protect our people, our trainees and our patients, the University of Toronto and all affiliated hospital’s research leadership have collectively agreed to scale back and in some cases to pause all non-essential on-site research activities. For more information check your RTC registered email.
For the next phase of reopening (expected on the week of July 6th) everyone will receive information from their supervisor about their start date. Supervisors are receiving instructions on how to manage the return of their groups. You should discuss all details of your work with your supervisor. Please see the answer to the next question for more details.
KRC will now operate at a 50% capacity. During the next phase, KRC trainees who cannot efficiently work form home will be allowed to return. You will get instructions from your supervisor that will indicate your start day (likely week of July 6th), the bench space assigned to you and times when you can work onsite. In addition, you will also get an email containing documents with information from the Institute. You will be asked to read, sign and return the Safe Work Practices Contract that will be sent to you, and to complete mandatory training modules. You must adhere to all guidelines (distancing, masking, occupancy limits, assigned shifts, booking of shared equipment etc).
Only those who have received permission to work onsite can enter the building. Everyone entering LSKSI or the Hospital must undergo screening. The Victoria Street entrance of LKSKI is open on workdays from 7:30am to 3:30pm. You need your badge and a valid digital screening barcode to enter via the LKSKI entrance. On the day when you want to enter, you will be asked to do a digital screening. This will be done daily (see digital screening instructions). After hours, you may use the Bond Street entrance, where you will be screened and given a mask. Then you may proceed to the LKSKI through the bridge.
Yes, everyone must wear masks in all public areas of the LKSKI building. You will be given a mask at the entrance. In addition to masking, all physical distancing rules must be followed. Access to the LKSKI building is limited to do essential experimental work. After you are finished with tasks that require you to be onsite, you are asked to leave the building. Graduate rooms are limited to 3 people/room, and should not be used for extended periods.
The Research Institute is closely following guidelines from public health agencies and our Corporate Health and Safety Services Department. Returning staff and trainees will be provided with a document describing new procedures. Crucial precautions include the following:
To ensure proper physical distancing in the labs, occupancy limits will be implemented. At any given time only a limited number of staff and trainees will be allowed to use the benches and rooms housing shared equipment. Plans are being developed to ensure that everyone will be able to return onsite. If needed, shift work will be implemented. You will have specific times when you can work onsite and an assigned bench space. Shared equipment and rooms (e.g. tissue culture) must be booked. Graduate rooms will also be limited to 3 people/room at any given time. Stayed tuned for more information that will be sent to you soon.
KRC is adhering to the principles and guidelines developed by SGS and U of T. You can read these here: https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/reengagement/#section_0. Your return to onsite work is voluntary. You and your supervisor must discuss and agree upon a plan. The documents you will receive will provide details on whom to contact if you have disputes you cannot resolve with your supervisor or in case of any health concerns. You can also contact the RTC for advice (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In accordance with public health guidelines and with the approval of Occupational Health and Safety, the graduate seating rooms on floors 4, 5 and 6 will now have an occupancy limit of three people at a time. This capacity increase will help to ensure that all current and newly on-boarded trainees have a space to work. One student can sit along each wall in the room while wearing a mask and ensuring that they are physically distancing from their colleagues. Trainees should not take off their masks or eat in these spaces, even if they are alone, and should adhere to all signage in these rooms. Ensuring that rules are followed will be part of the task of the newly appointed safety educators. These educators will check the graduate rooms on a daily basis to ensure they are being used in a safe manner. Important guidelines:
We continue to monitor the ongoing COVID-19 situation in the province and amongst our peer institutions. Should the need arise, we will scale back the number of trainees permitted per room in order to keep everyone safe. Please keep a close eye on your emails should we need to get in touch with you about any changes. Q: WHAT SHOULD I DO TO COMPLY WITH THE NEW GRAD SEATING RULES? A: If you already have an assigned seat: – In preparation for these changes, remove all your personal belongings from your currently used desk as soon as you are on site. If you are currently working remotely but have left your belongings on your desk, please ask one of your lab mates to put your things into your cupboard. You can continue to use your assigned storage but note that you can only enter the room if there are less than 3 people present. – Continue using the room where you have an assigned seat, but you likely will not be using your usual seat. If there are less than 3 people in the room, you may enter the room. Use one of the unoccupied desks that will ensure the most space to physically distance from others (this will likely not be your own seat). For example, the best distancing can be achieved by using one seat along each wall. – You are encouraged to work remotely whenever possible, and be on site only to do your experiments – You must wear your mask in the graduate room at all times, even when you are alone. You should use the common lunch areas for eating and drinking. – The room is to be used on an as needed (first come first served) basis. Trainees are encouraged to discuss the use of the room with the other occupants to work out the best way to manage the new situation. Please be considerate to allow everyone a chance to use the room. Discuss any issues of use with your supervisor. If needed, issues can be further discussed with the floor leads. You can also contact the RTC to discuss problems. We will keep discussions confidential and will proceed to discuss issues only with your permission. Please note, if you are raising an issue through the RTC’s anonymous survey, you should give enough information for us to be able to identify the location of the issue (e.g. room number). – Please read all guidelines above. If you do not have an assigned seat: New trainees are currently not assigned a specific seat but rather a room. They must comply all the above described guidelines.
Two clinical research staff members, Ivana Kandic and Alana Harrington have been assigned as safety educators in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute. From Monday to Friday they will be conducting daily walkthroughs of the lab spaces, office areas, common areas and meeting rooms to ensure that health and safety guidelines relating to the COVID-19 pandemic are being followed. Our goal with having safety educators on-site is to ensure that our research and hospital community are aware of the rules in the building and that we are able to identify and resolve any issues that may arise quickly and efficiently. The implementation of this role is a response to many concerns we have heard about staff members not following health and safety rule in the LKS building. In addition to developing this role, we have also:
Please continue to follow all the rules and regulations listed on the microsite, which include but are not limited to wearing a mask, regularly washing your hands, and practicing physical distancing. If you have any questions about the current COVID-19 health and safety regulations, please reach out to Olivia.Lavery@unityhealth.to.
During these extraordinary times we all face challenges stemming from the loss of our regular routines, reduced and altered social interactions; uncertainty about the future and fear for our health and the health of those we love. Finding motivation can also be a challenge. Right now, you might actually feel happy to have some extra downtime, and this is fine too. Give yourself some rest. The first step to overcome the challenges associated with physical distancing and the shutting down of most of our daily activities is to understand how these affect you. This knowledge will allow you to develop a personal plan. Remember, it is natural to feel somewhat disoriented and lost. However, these feelings should be reduced as we get used to our new normal. Once you see that you can stay healthy and productive, you will start feeling better. Hopefully many of you have already developed a new routine. Here are some tips on how to adapt to your new, temporary normal and take back some control. Maintain as much of your previous routine as possible.
Acknowledge your feelings. It is natural to get a flood of emotions.
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It is worth repeating, that by working from home, you already make a very significant contribution to efforts aimed at reducing the spread of the virus. Without this, none of the other efforts would work, so you practicing physical distancing is a vital contribution. At this time, the Institute has not yet called upon the research community for direct contribution to the Hospital’s efforts. However, we are promised that if the need arises, we will be called to help. Many of you also asked how you can contribute to COVID-19 research. This is something that you should discuss with your supervisor. There are many grants that have been submitted from our Institute. However, at this time, there are no general guidelines regarding how graduate students can contribute. Any graduate students involved in this activity will need to follow instructions from their Department as well as research leadership at SMH. They will need permission from their graduate department chair and supervisors (and research leadership, if the research involves on-site activity). In the meantime, there is a grassroots effort that we would like to call attention to. Dr Tara Moriarty from U of T has been organizing Canadian scientists who would like to help with efforts to fight COVID-19. You can read about this here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/mar-2-mobilizing-scientists-in-the-covid-19-fight-riding-the-covid-wave-and-more-1.5512550/scientists-are-mobilizing-from-the-ground-up-and-the-top-down-in-our-fight-against-covid-19-1.5512558 Dr. Moriarty had initiated a registry to generate a list of those individuals who have scientific training and are willing to get involved if the need arises. You can sign up and register your expertise here: https://moriartylab.org/covid-19-volunteers/ We would like to include new topics in the Newsletter based on your ideas and requests. However, we need help to do this. We are looking for volunteers to work with us to create content for the Newsletter. You can contribute on a regular basis, or just once, as your time permits. Here are some examples of topics you could contribute, and new ideas are always welcome! Please let us know (email@example.com) if you are interested in working with us.
SARS-Cov-2 (Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus 2), is a positive-sense single stranded RNA virus that causes COVID-19. It belongs to the β-coronaviridae family. It is a close relative of SARS-CoV-1 (which caused the 2002/3 SARS epidemic that hit Toronto hard) and Middle East respiratory syndrome virus MERS-CoV (PMID: 27344959). The four structural proteins of coronaviruses include the spike (S), envelope (E), membrane (M), and nucleocapsid (N) proteins. The S glycoprotein plays a crucial role in viral entry into cells, and therefore it is a key target for vaccines, therapeutic antibodies and diagnostic tests under development. Structure of the S protein of SARS-CoV-2 was recently obtained using cryo-electron microscopy (PMID: 32075877). Entry of coronaviruses into cells requires the binding of the S proteins to cellular receptors. Entry is also facilitated by processing of the S protein by host proteases (a process termed priming). Similar to the first SARS virus, SARS-CoV-2 binds to the host Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein. ACE2 is part of the Renin-Angiotensin System (RAS) key for blood pressure regulation. It cleaves angiotensin-II, thus reducing its levels; and generates the peptide Ang(1-7). This activity balances the effect of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) (PMID 24293035). ACE2 is a transmembrane protein highly expressed on the surface of lung cells, but can also be found in the heart, arteries, intestine and kidneys (PMID 15141377). It is cleaved by the enzyme ADAM17, resulting in the release of a soluble fragment, that can be found in serum and urine (PMID 15983030 and 24332999). Recent studies have verified that the S protein of SARS-CoV-2 indeed binds ACE2, and this is critical for the entry of the virus into the cells (PMID 32142651 and 32075877). Further, Transmembrane Serine Protease 2 (TMPRSS2) was found to be essential for S protein priming (32142651), and a clinically approved inhibitor of this enzyme blocked viral entry. Recently, an international team of researchers led by scientists from Austria and the University of British Columbia and in collaboration with St. Michael’s Hospital found promising effects of human recombinant soluble ACE2 (hrsACE2). They showed that hrsACE2 blocked entry of SARS-CoV-2 into cultured organoids derived from human blood vessels and kidneys, and significantly reduced virus production by cultured cells. Read more.
The RTC has collected tips to help you with your thesis. Please see this link for the first part: how to get started. Stay tuned for part 2 with tips on the specific sections. We also hosted a thesis writing seminar on April 23rd. Shaista Answer, a recent IMS graduate created a short practical list of thesis writing tips. Please also refer to the tips on How to get started with your thesis on here.
American Society for Molecular Biology poster session April 30, 2020 During these challenging times, we might not be able to come together in person, but we can stay connected. This year, we’ll be re-creating our annual meeting experience online. Please join us by presenting your research, learning from experts in the field and connecting with your colleagues. All presenters will receive a certificate of participation. Send us a video of you presenting your research. Later this spring, we’ll hold a poster chat on Twitter where you can talk about your work with fellow researchers. Learn more.
Boosting your energy and finding motivation is especially hard during these unusual times. There are many mood changing factors that can drain energy levels. In addition to social distancing and self-isolation, we lost our normal routine, and our usual fun activities ceased. We also deal with worries about our own health and the health of those we love, and the uncertainty of our future further augment anxiety. This is a situation we have no prior experience with, and our regular coping mechanisms are also curtailed. Therefore, staying productive will be a challenge Check out this link for more details!
In case you missed it: updates from SGS and guiding documents for dealing with the current situation 1) SGS has prepared and shared a document on Research Continuity for Master’s and Doctoral Students in response to the COVID-19 disruption (attached). In this document, SGS outlines potential mitigation strategies to address research disruptions and impeded academic progress by graduate students. 2) SGS documents including “Strategies for Graduate Mentoring and Supervision at a Distance” and Working from Home guide: https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/resources-supports/supervision-guidelines/ 3) Summary of the message from the dean for students in research-stream programs (read full message here: https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/covid19/#section_0) SGS asks that a student and their supervisor/supervisory committee take a staged approach to addressing any potential research interruption.
Many of you will have to do committee meetings, exams and defence online, which adds an extra layer of stress to the experience. Aravin Sukumar, who has defended his PhD last month in a virtual setting has prepared an excellent document to share his experiences and tips for preparation. While he has been focusing on the online defense experience, much of his advice are general and applicable both for in person and virtual defense. His tips not only summarize his own experience but are also based on a combination of articles and advice from others who have defended in the past. Adapting to the new situation when meetings and defenses are happening virtually can be an emotional journey and one can feel disappointed. One of Aravin’s most important advice is to remember that no matter what, the defense is a special occasion for you, your family, friends, and colleagues, regardless of how it is done. Although now virtual, this is a momentous opportunity for you to showcase your passion for your area of research, while having a fun and interactive conversation with your examiners. Your supervisor and examiners are eager for you to pass, and they will want to hear your ideas on the implications and applications of your research and how you would further advance this project if time permitted. See more for tips from Aravin!
Yes! REB The Research Ethics Office at 250 Yonge is currently closed and all staff are working remotely; no hard copy submissions are being accepted at this time. All submissions should be sent electronically. Trainees must work with their PIs on REB submissions and renewals. Here is the general website for research ethics forms, policies and contacts: http://stmichaelshospitalresearch.ca/staff-services/research-ethics/research-ethics-board/ For COVID-19 updates from the REB visit: http://stmichaelshospitalresearch.ca/staff-services/research-ethics/research-ethics-board/reb-covid-19-information/ Health Sciences Library Unity Health Toronto (St. Joseph’s, St. Michael’s, Providence) Library spaces and service points will be closed until further notice. Library services such as literature searches, research/information inquiries, and interlibrary loan requests (articles only) will continue to be available remotely for all Unity Health Toronto Staff from Monday to Friday, 8AM to 6PM. All online Library resources are still available 24/7. Due dates for borrowed materials will be suspended indefinitely. For more information please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is the link to the main page: https://guides.hsict.library.utoronto.ca/smhlibrary Access journals and articles offsite: you will need to authenticate yourself as a St. Michael’s Hospital staff, physician, or student to access full-text articles. For assistance and more information on authentication, visit our Off-Site Access page. Research Facilities Although the KRC research space is currently closed, you can still access research facilities resources here: http://stmichaelshospitalresearch.ca/staff-services/research-facilities/ Dr. Caterina Di Ciano-Oliveira has volunteered to host bioimaging session online during this time. To see a list of upcoming session, visit http://www.rfbms.com/Home/UpcomingEvents.aspx. The research facilities team is available through email: http://stmichaelshospitalresearch.ca/staff-services/research-facilities/contact-us/ Research facilities will have regular office hours – zoom details will be sent through the RTC newsletter: Virtual Office Hours – Bioimaging – Caterina Di Ciano-Oliveira Weekly starting Mon. Apr 13, 2020 01:00 PM Virtual Office Hours – Histology – Xiaofeng Lu Starting Tues. Apr 14, 2020 01:00 PM Genomics/Molecular Biology VIRTUAL office hours – Pamela Plant Starting Wed. Apr 8, 2020 10:00 AM Virtual Office Hours – Microfabrication – Dario Bogojevic Starting Thurs Apr 16, 2020 11:00 AM IT The IT department is still available via phone or email – if you have any questions please call extension 5751 or email email@example.com. Guides from IT are available on the intranet.
At this time trainees who do not have permission from leadership are not allowed to enter the Li Ka Shing building. Permissions to work on site on projects that are not deemed essential are not likely to be granted. However, if you have very specific needs (e.g. you need to pick something up from the building, or copy files) talk to your supervisor. Only PIs can request special permission from Research Leadership for access.
First, you should remember that this situation affects everyone, and will result in delay in everyone’s productivity. So, you will not be falling behind. Granting agencies and hiring committees will be well aware of this. Further, all applications allow you to detail interruptions that you faced during your career, so you can provide an explanation about your situation. Having said this, there are things you can do to boost your CV during this interruption. Here are a few tips.
While we are all eagerly awaiting the day when we will be able to get back to our regular work, the timeline right now is impossible to assess. The good news is that our combined efforts in physical distancing and putting social activities on hold seem to be working, as the number of hospitalizations appear to be lower than initial models suggested. However, it is not yet time to ease the strong mitigation strategies. Further, the clinical needs of the Hospital must be a priority when deciding on the opening of our buildings. This means that we have to prepare for more time working remotely. It is also likely that we will get back to our activities gradually: gatherings and travel will likely not be allowed for some time even if we will be able to get back to work. By now all trainees should have a medium-term plan in place for working from home. This should be discussed with your supervisor. It will likely include lots of writing (manuscripts, thesis, review).
First, you need to discuss this with your supervisor. You need to consider not only opportunities, but how this work will affect your own thesis project and graduation timeline (some graduate students may be at the stage when they should focus on their thesis instead). Once there is an agreement with your supervisor about your potential role, you need to ask for permission from your departmental chair at your University. This is a compulsory step. If you need access to the research building, you also have to get permission from leadership (this is something your supervisor should ask for). Ontario is asking for community volunteers. You can sign up here: https://www.sparkontario.ca/ The site also lists current volunteering opportunities. PDFs can also volunteer to be redeployed to support Long-term Care homes for 2-4 weeks. For more info (including conditions such as the need for self-isolation after ending the deployment) check your SMH email. Discuss with your supervisor before applying for this. Graduate students are not eligible for redeployment.
Both U of T and our Research Institute makes it a priority to have student stipends paid. The Institute’s statement on student stipend is the following: “For graduate students who are currently receiving a stipend from the hospital, supervisors are expected to continue to pay these stipends”. If you have not done so, we encourage you to have a discussion with your supervisors and clarify the question of your stipend, timelines, and expectations. You should clarify the following: how can you continue to work, what should you be doing during this time, how can you minimize delays in the project and in your progress. Trainee stipend is paid from various sources, and the source of your stipend might determine your impact. U of T sources: The SGS website indicates that “Funded graduate students, including those on stipends, will continue to receive their funding packages as stated in their funding letters. TA contracts may need to be adjusted to reflect the fact that undergraduate courses are no longer in-person, but the overall number of hours allocated in the contracts will not be reduced.” Funding from operating grant: some agencies and foundations are temporary reducing or holding payment of active grants, however these are expected to be only temporary measures. Unfortunately, almost all upcoming competitions from mayor agencies are affected. Some student funding competition have also changed deadlines. This generates lots of uncertainty. However, the general guiding principles for all agencies is that they are trying to make sure that there is no disruption in trainee stipends. RTC scholarship: evaluation of the RTC scholarships had to be put temporarily on hold, and we have some uncertainty about our budget. We hope to have results of the competition within the next couple of weeks. COVID research grants: Some groups have applied for special funds for COVID-related research that may provide funding. Grad students must remember that should they, together with their supervisors decide that they will participate in these new projects, they must seek permission from their department.
If you have not yet done so, we encourage you to have a discussion with your supervisors, Some PDFs may be able to continue working remotely, which would ensure that the delay in the research project is minimal. Since PDFs are employees, the Institute’s rules for all research employees apply, as follows: “Where an employee’s work is unable to continue or has been impacted by the research pause we will work through each situation on a case by case basis with the scientist and their staff on possible redeployment opportunities within research and the hospital sites as a first option. Other options depend on the staff member’s status (permanent, contract or casual) and in all cases we would work to identify access to special Federal Government income supplement programs.” Please also see above some general info on various research sources.
Grants are available to current students at U of T who have incurred unexpected expenses directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as additional living costs, child-care, and other extraordinary and reasonable needs. SGS Emergency Grant: https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/awards/sgs-emergency-grant/ SGS Emergency Loan: https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/awards/sgs-emergency-loan/
Here are a couple of excellent online resources. We are in the process of organizing online sessions to address some of the common concerns and to help boost wellbeing. Details will follow soon. Here are some resources for trainees:
The University of Toronto SGS has put together some additional resources to support trainees during this time.
You will need to scan a copy of each item below to firstname.lastname@example.org:
Official government photo identification
The Federal government has suspended all interest accrual and payments on the Federal portion of your student loan until Sept. 30, 2020. If you normally make your payments by pre-authorized debit or by cheque, you don’t need to do anything to take advantage of the break; however, if you make automatic loan payments through your bank, you must contact your bank to stop the payments until after Sept. 30. If the provincial part of your loan was issued in Ontario, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan or British Columbia, you can sit tight as the deferral will also cover your provincial loans. However, if the provincial portion of your loan was issued in any of the remaining provinces or territories, (that’s Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon, NWT and Nunavut), you’ll have to check with those loan providers directly. Note, this deferral only applies to students who have just graduated or are already paying their loans. So, if you’ve just graduated you don’t have to start paying until September and if you’re not graduating this year you won’t have to worry about making payments till after you do.
St. Michael’s staff wishing to remotely access OWA/staff portal and the intranet, including Employee Self-Serve, will need to go through https://fortiportal.unityhealth.to with their FortiToken. FortiToken provides Two-Factor Authentication for Remote Access In order to enhance security measures, prevent phishing via OWA/webmail and prevent health information (PHI) data breaches, Unity Health Toronto is implementing a new Two-Factor Authentication solution for all Remote Access resources. What is two-factor authentication (2FA)? Two-factor authentication is a second layer of security to protect accounts, systems or networks. Users are asked for two types of login information – their UHT username and password and an additional secure PIN code, provided through FortiToken to the user’s cell phone– before they can log in. This security feature helps to better protect against email phishing attacks. If your credentials are stolen, they will not be enough for someone else to access the network because another level of authentication will be required. Two-factor authentication is best practice and is the gold standard for remote access login, used by banks and some other applications for increased security. For off-site access to any UHT application (UHT email, Intranet, remote access to files etc), you will need a FortiToken smart phone app, which will provide you with your secondary PIN for login. This PIN will be sent to your phone, and you need to enter it during the login process. During the initial setup of the FortiToken, your UHT login credentials will be connected to the app and you will be authorized to obtain your PIN for login. The PIN will regularly change, so you will need to enter it in a timely fashion. You do not need a FortiToken if you are connected to the SMH Wi-Fi or network/working onsite. How do I get and set up a FortiToken?
– Register the FortiToken to your Smartphone – Use the new FortiToken for remote access. In case of any problems, Help desk will be available for assistance if you run into any difficulties with the FortiToken registration and remote access process. How do I access UHT email and applications? For accessing various UHT applications, including Non-Clinical Applications i.e. OWA/webmail and intranet when you are not physically located in Unity Health Toronto, you can use the FortiPortal https://fortiportal.unityhealth.to To access the network using a non-SMH computer, use: https://angel1.smh.ca Please see the attached table for a summary of remote access options. If you have any questions, email RemoteHelp@unityhealth.to. Where can I find out more information about FortiTokens and remote access? You can find out more about the new two-factor FortiToken solution as well as how to access clinical and non-clinical applications in the Frequently Asked Questions. Please see the attached documents for more information.