Collaboration, constructive criticism, COVID-19 research. In very specific ways, each of these helped this month's featured student researcher become "a better scientist and a better man."
Ed Clint is a Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In collaboration with Justin Rhodes and the Neurotechnology for Memory and Cognition Group, Clint incorporates an evolutionary perspective into his research on mental and physical health, studying topics including childhood risk factors for PTSD and the effects of everyday remedies on COVID-19.
Hometown: Rockford, Ill.
When did you first take an interest in your field?
When I found out that it existed. I did not know that the tools of evolutionary biology were being applied to psychology and neuroscience until I happened to read Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s “How the Mind Works” a couple of years after I graduated high school. I was excited at the prospect of how an evolutionary perspective could inform our understanding of the mind, as it has with the rest of the body.
What kind of research are you working on?
The United COVID Survivor Study is a national survey about the effects of everyday remedies on COVID-19 illness. The UCSS is a collaborative project produced by researchers at UCLA, UC-Merced and here at Illinois. I am the project coordinator, and it is partly based on earlier research that I published on fever and fever-related illness. There is a great deal we do not yet understand about how conventional products like over-the-counter drugs and home remedies may benefit or worsen illness. The survey includes a mobile app that allows people currently sick with COVID-19 to report their symptoms and treatments as well as a conventional online survey for those who previously had COVID-19 but have since recovered. We are currently collecting data, so anyone wishing to participate should visit the study website.
Beckman’s mission is to build “a better world.” How is your research making our world better?
We hope to identify common treatments that may affect illness severity and health outcomes in order to inform treatment. We are currently focused on COVID-19, but we expect that some findings will bear on other common infectious diseases as well. COVID-19 has been a serious reminder of how vulnerable we remain to devastating infectious diseases. We hope to contribute knowledge that can ultimately reduce suffering and enhance survival.
How has your affiliation with the Beckman Institute helped you?
If you will pardon the sentimentality, I have genuinely found Beckman an inspiring place to be. It has lived up to its conception as a center for collaboration and excellence. It has been a wonderful host of the Rhodes lab. The facilities and services are top-notch and this has made it much easier to collaborate with colleagues, conduct studies, and even communicate research to the public. No less than two videos covering Rhodes lab research have won Emmys! (Shout-out to Steve Drake.)
Describe a transformative moment or experience you have had at Beckman Institute.
Years ago at Beckman, I presented my research for the first time to the Rhodes lab. I was inexperienced, brash, and headstrong. My presentation was indulgent and tone-deaf. Professor Rhodes and other lab members maintained a professional bearing but pulled no punches in skewering the obvious flaws. I was quite upset in the moment. I went home teeth grinding. Unpleasant as it was, that experience was just what I needed. I deleted and remade that presentation using the lab feedback, which made for a far superior product. The Rhodes lab meant to help me improve that talk. They did, and in the bargain taught me much-needed lessons in humility and consideration that made me a better scientist and a better man.
What are your life plans post-university?
I hope to continue pursuing questions in evolutionary medicine as a postdoctoral fellow, as well as to continue as a course instructor, which I also take great satisfaction in.
What do you like to do outside of the classroom or lab?
Running, hiking, and I love the slice of Americana that is the drive-in movie theatre. As a true nerd, I enjoy improving Wikipedia as a member of the Guerrilla Skeptics of Wikipedia, a group that bolsters articles that project and embody scientific skepticism.
Favorite local restaurant: The Courier Café is tough to beat. But, having been a UIUC undergrad, I have many happy memories of Merry Ann’s.
Three songs on your summer playlist: Feeling Good, Nina Simone; They, Jem; Happy, Pharrell Williams
COVID-conscious summer plans: With my friends and family vaccinated, we must now regress to our tween-age selves and re-learn how to socialize with other human beings in person and un-masked. It still feels strange!
Editor's note: to visit the UCSS website and participate in the study, visit: https://unitedcovidsurvivorstudy.org/