Featured Staff: Navigating research during COVID-19

Featured Staff: Navigating research during COVID-19

By: Alexandra de Leon Date: April 20th, 2020
Brianna Mills, Ph.D., presenting HIPRC research at a Health Affairs national briefing on violence and health in October 2019.

As Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center’s research scientist, Brianna Mills, Ph.D., works closely with faculty, staff, trainees, and students to stay on top of any research question that may arise and answering it as well as possible.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Mills immediately switched gears to accommodate research activities going on at HIPRC.

“I think one of the strengths of HIPRC as a research center is, you know, we’re always planning for contingencies,” Mills said.

As many businesses, schools, and offices closed, Mills said research still had to continue in whatever remote way possible. Luckily, working at HIPRC trained her to be flexible when something as big as a pandemic occurred.

“We’re always thinking not just about how to do things, but how to how to do a thing in a way that is flexible and manageable to whatever the future may hold,” Mills said.

Flexibility in research is key in these confusing times of COVID. Mills says researchers constantly build flexibility into their research. Even though no one anticipated the coronavirus shutting down most everything, this pandemic will be an example many researchers can use in the future.

Some of the projects researchers are working on at HIPRC involve interactions with patients and clinicians in hospitals. As of now Mills, and teams are navigating through these hurdles one step at a time. Some projects have been put on pause, others have changed their format of getting data, but for the most part research is still continuing at the center.

“We ask ourselves, ‘what’s the best way to keep our projects moving forward and functional and still answering the research questions that we have?” Mills said. “Luckily we have great funders and partners that have been great at extending guidelines and working with us to make sure that we can continue to do our work.”

Part of what makes Mills so excited to continue research is the never-ending thirst for knowledge, “I think I find the world just a really fascinating place. And so, I’m one of those people that’s endlessly curious about pretty much everything.”

Mills says the silver lining to this pandemic for research is the new attention to public health.

“This is both directly and indirectly shining a light on the work that we do. We’re seeing maybe a renewed interest in public health, and especially the disparities in how public health affects people,” Mills said.

While navigating the pandemic, Mills is thankful for how proactive, flexible, and creative many have become while navigating their day-to-day lives. She hopes to look back at this time as a good experience, especially with how HIPRC has reacted and how many are working hard to help others in this time of need. She hopes researchers will continue to apply the lessons learned during COVID-19 to make research more applicable to people.

“What I’m learning, and many of us researchers are learning, is how to plan for tomorrow. And next week. And also six months from now in the context of research,” Mills said. “This has all been a real learning experience and we’re all learning lessons I hope we can all carry in a non-pandemic world.”

HIPRC offers research support to investigators from a range of academic partners, community organizations, and government agencies.