The SFI postdoctoral fellows pause for a photo break during Pandemic Pod 2.0.

Last September, SFI’s postdocs launched a cutting-edge experiment. Its objective: to gather a quorum of SFI’s postdoc community in one physical place. Its methodology: a combination of stringent COVID-19 testing and 14-day pre-retreat quarantines to ensure that the “Postdoc Pandemic Pod” would remain COVID-free.

Its results? Roaring success.

“I’d ‘worked at’ SFI for more than half a year, but the retreat was the first experience where I felt, ‘I really am at SFI,’” says Jonas Dalege, who arrived as a Program Postdoctoral Fellow in April 2020. Like several Pod-members, Dalege had never met many of his fellow postdocs in person, and the sense of community inspired him to help plan a sequel.

Now that cases in New Mexico are declining and the vaccination campaign is in swing, a second Pandemic Pod is running from April 16 –  23. Like its predecessor, this second Pod involves strict testing and quarantine measures.

“We continue to play it extremely safe,” says Anjali Bhatt, an ASU-SFI Center Fellow who co-organized the first Pod and is running the second alongside Dalege.

Parts of the Pod, such as brainstorm sessions, are designed to mimic SFI’s campus life, and its base at a remote, spacious Hacienda in the mountains offers even more outdoor workspaces than the Airbnb where Pandemic Pod #1 took place.

Still, Bhatt emphasizes, “the retreat offers a distinct and really additive component that goes beyond what could happen on campus.”

“We have held an annual postdoc retreat for many years, but it has become really clear that there has never been a time when it has had as much positive impact,” says Hilary Skolnik, SFI’s Postdoctoral Fellows Program Manager. “As someone described the last Pandemic Pod retreat, it is ‘like SFI on steroids,’ generating ideas that “don’t surface during a Zoom call.”

Says Dalege, “Over the next few months, things are going to be getting back to ‘normal’ more and more.” The Pandemic Pod is certainly part of that movement. “But it will also be a new start.”