Grinnellian Covid Experiences - Aurora Burds Connor ’96

“I had been in a lab at least twice a week since I was 17.”

June 24, 2020 — Aurora Burds Connor ’96 is director of the preclinical modeling and testing facilities at Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

Aurora Burds Connor ’96
    Aurora Burds Connor ’96

On Saturday, March 14, the president of MIT announced that noncritical research would stop. Only one of my projects was considered critical, so I needed to terminate everything else.

I had already told my staff to stay home earlier that week, so I was alone when I realized that I would not be doing hands-on research on a regular basis. This thought was disorienting and destabilizing. I have wanted to be a scientist since I was 9. Other than my semester abroad at Grinnell and the birth of my two children, I had been in a lab at least twice a week since I was 17.

The lab I was standing in was a space that I had spent years designing when our new building was built. This is my dream job, and this lab is my home. I took a deep breath and quickly boxed up a small microscope so I could at least dissect plants and bugs with my kids, knowing it was a Band-Aid for the loss I was feeling. I took a selfie next to my favorite microscope.

Today, I am a consultant for SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research projects and testing initiatives. Like most universities, MIT does not have a space for work with infectious materials like this coronavirus, so there is no option for me to test any of the therapies my colleagues are developing. Instead, I assist with regulatory paperwork that must be approved before any preclinical or clinical trials can begin.

Read more stories about Grinnellians facing COVID-19 head-on.