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Karen Lloyd, associate professor of microbiology, videoconferences with UT microbiology graduate research assistant Katie Sipes with the help of her daughters, Clara, 10, and Mary Jon, 6. Behind the camera is Drew Steen, assistant professor of environmental geology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Lloyd’s spouse and the girls’ father.

Karen Lloyd, associate professor of microbiology, and Drew Steen, assistant professor of environmental geology, were two of many UT faculty members who found themselves quickly adapting travel and conference plans last week as the nation embraces social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Lloyd delivers the keynote address for the Southeastern Geobiology Symposium, held exclusively online, with some encouragement from Mary Jon.
Lloyd delivers the keynote address for the Southeastern Geobiology Symposium, held exclusively online, with some encouragement from Mary Jon.

The couple had plans to attend the Southeastern Biogeochemistry Symposium, which was to be hosted at Georgia Tech but was moved entirely online.

Lloyd delivered the keynote address remotely—from her laptop, with her six-year-old daughter, Mary Jon, perched on her knees.

“The keynote went well except that for some reason I got disconnected halfway through,” she said. “But there was no way for me to tell, so I would have just kept talking if I hadn’t immediately gotten text messages from my grad students telling me I was offline.”

Microbiology graduate student TJ Rogers won second prize in the symposium’s virtual poster competition; Maryn Miles, a junior in anthropology from Birmingham, Alabama, also presented.

Claire Elbon, a senior in microbiology from Nashville, placed second in her area for her oral presentation session, and earth and planetary sciences graduate student Vickie Frazier received a third-place spot.

“The thing that surprised me the most about this conference was how successful the poster session was,” Lloyd said. “It wasn’t as good as a real poster session, but I managed to learn some things. The key is that it was a ton of effort by our colleagues at Georgia Tech. In this case, it paid off.”

Steen said he had to miss most of the conference as he wrangled the family’s changing travel plans and kept their children occupied at home.

Steen and Lloyd are both evaluating the courses they are teaching—climate change and general microbiology, respectively—and adapting how they will deliver the material via Zoom.

“I will record the lectures so folks with technical difficulties can watch them afterward,” Lloyd said. “I will also be providing more detailed notes from my lectures, in case the students just can’t get to the online content. My amazing teaching assistant, Lauren Mullen, was fast acting and managed to get our last exam fully online before spring break, so we will do that again for the final.”

Lloyd was set to travel to Svalbard, Norway, later this spring as part of a permafrost research project funded by the US Department of Energy. That trip has been delayed for a year. However, there is other work that her research team can pursue remotely.

“We have plenty of computer-based bioinformatics analysis to do, so we will be able to get a lot of work done even though we will be sequestered in our houses,” she said. “I do a lot of remote research collaborations anyway, so those will continue unabated.”

The part of working from home that will be the biggest challenge?

“Managing the kids. My job requires eight hours per day of my full attention, and Drew’s is the same,” she said. “While it will be fun to get to spend more time with the kids, the quality of my work will certainly suffer. I imagine my kids are going to end up watching a lot of TV, unfortunately, just to allow us to get our work done.”


Karen Dunlap (865-974-8674,