University of Florida scientist Christopher Vincent is used to working with the unknown to learn new grove management practices. As a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences plant physiologist, Vincent works to discover how citrus trees can thrive under stressful conditions. Now, during the coronavirus stay-at-home recommendations, he’s applying those skills in a whole new experience — working from home with three school-aged children.
Vincent is juggling advancing a research program with attending to three children now learning at home. His middle-schooler, second-grader and three-year-old are sharing an Internet connection as well as his attention. Vincent leverages organizational skills used to manage complex research projects into managing a daily schedule that intertwines work and home life.
But Vincent is getting the job done. Just as with his experiments on learning whether shade can impact the productivity of citrus trees infected by citrus greening, having a schedule is important.
“Having a routine that is followed by the family — just like a routine that a lab team would follow — helps manage the multitasking that needs to happen for everyone to succeed,” said Vincent during a recent conversation scheduled between his research and his children’s lessons.
He also leads a team of lab technicians and graduate students who are working on multiple research projects involving tree health and fruit production. The team is analyzing many sets of data from home work stations. Some are collecting data from selected field sites when it is possible to practice social distancing and wear personal protective gear. Staggered hours for working in the lab are scheduled so that only one person is in the lab at a time.
One example is a research project the team is advancing by examining the part of the citrus tree’s growth cycle that affects attraction of the Asian citrus psyllid. The psyllid is the invasive pest that transmits the damaging citrus greening bacterium to the tree and is attracted to new growth. Understanding how weather induces new growth may give growers more insights as to when to use pesticide to control the insect and how much to use at certain times. Ultimately, knowing this could reduce the amount of pesticide used by a grower, not only saving money but lessening the environmental impact.
“Scientists often encounter changing environments where they need to adapt and move forward,” Vincent explained. “Now we are just using those skills in our homes and our labs.”
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