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Pharmacology News: Fall 2020

President's Message

Greetings CSPT members!

I cannot believe it is November already. The past few months have indeed been busy. After a prolonged lockdown and keeping research going in an online environment through journal clubs, writing manuscripts and online presentations many of us have re-emerged to partial or full lab reopening and the resumption of research activities. While I am sure we are all thankful for this, there are many new challenges including understanding and navigating the new safety regulations around operating a research lab during a pandemic and protecting our students and other workers. Furthermore, many parts of the country are now being faced with a second wave of COVID-19 and related restrictions that may disrupt things once again. On top of that, as educators we have had to quickly adapt to the remote teaching environment. For many of us this has been a brand-new approach to higher education and a steep learning curve. On the positive side, it is very exciting to be taking a different approach to education, which I believe will have lasting benefits on how higher education is delivered and accessed in the post-pandemic environment. 

COVID-19 has posed significant challenges for the CSPT over the past nine months, most significantly the cancellation of our annual in person conference in Ottawa last June. I definitely missed the personal interactions with my pharmacology colleagues that I look forward to each Spring. But with challenge comes opportunity for the CSPT to evolve and refresh, contributing to the vitality and viability of the society in the long term.  We hosted our first ever virtual conference, which was a big success. This included 50 research presentations by trainees, and presentations by our 2019/20 Senior Scientist, Junior Scientist and Postdoctoral Fellow Research Award Recipients. The conference was attended by approximately 90 people per day and included attendees from Canada, the US, Europe, Asia and Africa.  

Further, we were able to take advantage of MITACs funding to hire Dr. Antonios Diab (Dalhousie University) as a full-time post-doctoral fellow (a first for us) who is focused on COVID-19 knowledge translation activities for the CSPT.

We have embraced a move to more of a committee driven operational structure and have added new standing committees (Publications Committee, History Committee, Finance Committee, COVID-19 Committee and CSPT-ASPET Liaison Committee). The new committees provide greater opportunity for member involvement and are making it possible to pursue initiatives in several priority areas. I would like to sincerely thank the members who have volunteered. I look forward to working with you in the coming months. I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the new Education Committee Chair, Dr Fabiana Caetano-Crowley (Western university) and the new Publication’s Committee Chair Dylan Burger (University of Ottawa) for taking on these very important rolls. I would also thank the outgoing Chair of the Education Committee Dr Cindy Woodland (University of Toronto), for her many years of volunteer service to the Education Committee and the Board of Directors. 

Thanks to the hard work of the CSPT Committees and volunteers, Executive Director Randee Holmes and PostDoc Antonios Diab there will be many additional developments to look forward to in 2020/21. These include enhancements to the CSPT website through the development of a web-based COVID-19 pharmacology resource and pharmacology glossary. Regular pharmacology education webinars beginning with the free COVID-19 pharmacology webinar on November 25, 2020. Close to 100 participants have already registered! 

We will be introducing a CSPT Fellowship designation to recognize professional contributions of CSPT members with the inaugural group of inductees to coincide with the 2021 annual conference. Plans are well underway for the 2021 scientific meeting and annual general meeting. An announcement will be made in November regarding the draft program and format (online/in person). 

In closing, I would like to thank you for your continued support of the CSPT and hope that you can take part in our planned scientific and education programming in 2020/21. 

My thoughts and best wishes go out to all. Stay safe.

Yours sincerely,

Kerry Goralski, PhD
CSPT President

Strategies for Managing Training, Isolation and Well-being in the Time of COVID-19

For trainess, graduate school and postdoctoral training presents us with many challenges including financial, social and personal. During a months-long pandemic, it’s fair so say these, and perhaps other, challenges have evolved and likely increased for many trainees. We may face delays in thesis and program progression during full or intermittent lab closures, isolation from loved ones and social supports, financial hardship, and diminished future employment opportunities. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, as our struggles are personal and differ between trainees. The fact remains, however, that many of us are facing new and exacerbated challenges. While there are no “one size fits all” solutions to each unique situation, I believe the following suggestions and supports may help. 

Thesis and program progression during a pandemic 

In recent months, the majority of us, regardless of whether we do our graduate work in labs or classrooms, have been affected by university closures, class cancellations/repackaging, or stay-at-home orders. While most have since returned to our labs in some capacity, some are facing the possibility of further potential closures. For almost all, this has meant unanticipated delays in lab projects and coursework. 

While it is true that working from home provided dedicated time to focus on thesis and manuscript writing and catch up on literature review, it wasn’t necessarily an ideal experience due to the concomitant challenges many graduate students faced as a result of the pandemic. If you’re like me, on some days motivation is high and a lot gets accomplished; on others, the energy needed to complete tasks is almost impossible to muster. 

So what can be done about this? How do we get through it? We need to be kind to ourselves. Uncertainty regarding the health of loved ones, finances, thesis progression, job prospectives post-defence, and so on is a lot to manage at once. We need to remember that these are not our regular working circumstances while finding ways to remain productive, even as we are called to continually adjust to what is defined as the “new normal” for this week.

There a few practical things we can do that may also help with adjusting to graduate work in a mixed work from home/work in the lab modality. First, make a list: what can you accomplish while you are working remotely? What needs to be done in the lab? Making a list allows for setting discrete goals that can be accomplished. Like many of you, I am used to a routine. Having that routine shaken up left me a little lost at first. To address this, I put things in place to create a new routine, including setting up a workspace at home dedicated solely to work. It sounds simple, but dedicating distinct spaces for work allows you to “go to work” as separate from your home and social life. Further, by setting work hours you can use your list and plan for your workday. 

In London, Ontario we have returned to working in the lab, but with limited hours and capacity, so planning meaningful time in the lab has become essential. Determine what you can accomplish with your university and departmental restrictions and tackle those as possible. Finally, do what you need to do; if you need to start your work day a little later than normal or need to take a movie/snack break, then do it. For us as academics, self-care has always been important. I’d argue it is even more important now. 

Social isolation and mental health

Without a doubt, there have been changes to our social supports, from not seeing family, friends or colleagues as often as usual to changes in what we can participate in during our downtime. Telephones and video-conferencing programs, like Zoom or Google Hangouts, have been a useful stand-in for the social interactions we would regularly have. They can go a long way in helping relieve the lonliness and isolation some may feel. However, according to numerous public health sources and surveys, mental health challenges are steadily on the rise. And while a majority of people report increasing stressors during the pandemic, only a fraction of those are accessing the many supports freely available.

There are many no-cost supports available, beyond your personal social circles, such as help lines, virtual counselling appointments, social media groups, and so on. A simple Internet search will bring up a host of options. Uncertainty about a plethora of pressing issues (e.g., thesis, job prospects, lab work) is an undeniable stressor and we all cope differently. Find a healthy solution that works best for you and know that you are not alone in your personal struggle.

Financial challenges in the time of COVID-19

As graduate students, many of us face financial struggle on any given typical day. To make things even more challenging, as a result of the pandemic some of us may have experienced an unforeseen decrease in income. The good news is that, while these challenges persist, there are supports that may provide some relief. The federal government has legislated a COVID-19 benefit for students making less than $1,000 monthly. There is also some legislation to help Canadians with deferral of bill and rent payments (see COVID-19 government information webpages). Additionally, some university, graduate and postdoctoral associations, and/or graduate student societies are offering bursaries to help assist students through these financially precarious times. 

While it’s clear that there is not a single solution for everyone, there is a variety of programs available, and likely at least one that will help you through this time. Further, advocacy work to bring attention to graduate student financial needs is occurring across the country from federal and provincial student organizations. It is hoped these efforts will lead to additional supports in the near future. 

As the school year marches on, many of us have been called upon to adapt to online learning, whether as a learner or as an instructor. I have worked with some of our faculty on ways to ensure that graduate teaching assistants experience success in delivering courses in a new format. The most important tip I can offer here is to be kind and patient — with your course coordinators and instructors, your students and, importantly, yourselves. We are adjusting, as we must, and with times of change come some growing pains as well as opportunities to learn. If we embrace these equally, then we actively prepare ourselves to make the most of unanticipated struggles.

I hope these suggestions find you well, and are of assistance you during these continued challenging times. Wishing you and your loved ones safety and health. 


Pierre Thibeault

CSPT Pharmacology News Co-editor

First Postdoctoral Fellow for CSPT

The CSPT Board of Directors is pleased to introduce MITACs Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Antonios Diab. From July 2020 to July 2021, Antonios will be working on the project “Drug Safety and Effectiveness During Viral Pandemics.” During this time, Antonios will research and assess COVID-19 drug therapy clinical trial results as they are published. This research will allow the CSPT to respond to external requests for expert advice on COVID-19 drug safety and effectiveness, prepare evidence-based position statements for COVID-19 drug therapies, create and maintain an up-to-date web-based resource on COVID-19 drug therapies for our members, and provide a cutting-edge research forum to share the latest information on COVID-19 drug therapies. By providing timely and reliable information to members, clinicians and health agencies, the CSPT can help achieve optimal therapeutic choices for patients affected by COVID-19 disease. Canadians may benefit through improved drug treatments and management of COVID-19 disease. The CSPT benefits by delivering on our mission. 

Brief bio: Antonios Diab is a postdoctoral fellow with the CSPT and in the College of Pharmacy, Dalhousie University. He has trained in the fields of neuroscience and pharmacology with a specific focus on how gene mutations alter neuronal structure and function to influence behaviour. He has a passion for scientific communication, education and outreach, especially around genetics, mental health, and drug mechanisms, safety, efficacy, tolerability and adherence. His current research is focused on analyzing and communicating the drug and vaccine pre-clinical and clinical response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular interest in the Canadian response. Antonios is also interested in drug and public health policy and decision making, and the role of the scientific community in those processes.

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