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Mentorship at a distance

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The year is 2022. It is a warm summer day in Boston, and Naomi, an incoming graduate student, sits in a cafe waiting for two colleagues who have greatly influenced her career—although they’ve never met in person. It was back in 2020 when Naomi, then an undergraduate at Howard University, spent a summer working virtually with Matthias, a postdoc, and Maha, the lab principal investigator, through a Harvard University internship program. Now that the world has managed COVID-19, they are excited to finally meet face-to-face and reflect on that summer experience.

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ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT NEUBECKER

“With a little work, we formed a lasting bond.”

NAOMI: I remember that day in March 2020 when everything seemed to unravel. I was told to evacuate my campus and that classes would be virtual for the indefinite future. While many of my peers’ summer research opportunities were canceled, I was lucky that the Harvard summer internship was scheduled to continue virtually. But I wondered how I would learn a completely new topic and research style from 3000 kilometers and two time zones away. How would I form a relationship with my mentors?

MATTHIAS: Both Maha and I had doubts about the virtual internship format. I had never mentored a student completely remotely, and I knew you had never done this type of research before. I counted on Maha’s experience mentoring students and her optimism that we would make it work.

NAOMI: The biggest challenge for me was not knowing whether I was on track. If we had been working together in person, it would have been easy to casually touch base and get gentle nudges in the right direction when I needed them. But I was too nervous to ask basic questions over video calls and chat, so I relied on trial and error and online tutorials. Then, when I presented my work to you, I was disappointed to learn that the model I had worked on for 2 weeks was completely wrong.

MAHA: I remember that moment well. It became clear then that we needed to reset our expectations and how we communicated. I urged you to use chat liberally and reach out for more frequent short check-ins. As the days rolled on, you seemed to become more at ease asking for help.

NAOMI: It certainly helped that you were present and responsive via telephone calls and chat. I also learned the importance of making my concerns heard. And when we began to speak more often, I got to see another side of your lives. I never expected to have video calls with Matthias while he was at the playground with his kids!

MATTHIAS: Me neither! Do you remember when my daughter poured water on my laptop? It delayed me terribly in sending over a key figure for your final presentation. I was balancing so much at the time and yet desperately wanted to be there when you needed me.

NAOMI: Yes, that wasn’t the smoothest moment—but ultimately it only strengthened our relationship. Seeing your struggles with working from home helped me realize that we are all human, navigating through a difficult time together.

MATTHIAS: I enjoyed connecting with you informally; it felt very genuine. It also offered an opportunity to reflect on what kind of mentor I want to be in the “real” world. I hope to carry that forward with me.

MAHA: Losing the connection with mentees was among the hardest aspects of the quarantine for me professionally. Shifting to a more relaxed communication style really helped. It also reinforced my belief that science and scientists should be less aloof and more welcoming, especially to aspiring scientists early in their careers.

NAOMI: The virtual environment made it hard to connect at times—but with a little work, we formed a lasting bond.

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Science

Too bright to breed

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Night light from coastal cities overpowers natural signals for coral spawning from neighboring reefs.

PHOTO: NOKURO/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Most coral species reproduce through broadcast spawning. For such a strategy to be successful, coordination has had to evolve such that gametes across clones are released simultaneously. Over millennia, lunar cycles have facilitated this coordination, but the recent development of bright artificial light has led to an overpowering of these natural signals. Ayalon et al. tested for the direct impact of different kinds of artificial light on different species of corals. The authors found that multiple lighting types, including cold and warm light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, led to loss of synchrony and spawning failure. Further, coastal maps of artificial lighting globally suggest that it threatens to interfere with coral reproduction worldwide and that the deployment of LED lights, the blue light of which penetrates deeper into the water column, is likely to make the situation even worse.

Curr. Biol. 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.039 (2020).

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SpaceX launches Starlink app and provides pricing and service info to early beta testers

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SpaceX has debuted an official app for its Starlink satellite broadband internet service, for both iOS and Android devices. The Starlink app allows users to manage their connection – but to take part you’ll have to be part of the official beta program, and the initial public rollout of that is only just about to begin, according to emails SpaceX sent to potential beta testers this week.

The Starlink app provides guidance on how to install the Starlink receiver dish, as well as connection status (including signal quality), a device overview for seeing what’s connected to your network, and a speed test tool. It’s similar to other mobile apps for managing home wifi connections and routers. Meanwhile, the emails to potential testers that CNBC obtained detail what users can expect in terms of pricing, speeds and latency.

The initial Starlink public beta test is called the “Better than Nothing Beta Program,” SpaceX confirms in their app description, and will be rolled out across the U.S. and Canada before the end of the year – which matches up with earlier stated timelines. As per the name, SpaceX is hoping to set expectations for early customers, with speeds users can expect ranging from between 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency of 20ms to 40ms according to the customer emails, with some periods including no connectivity at all. Even with expectations set low, if those values prove accurate, it should be a big improvement for users in some hard-to-reach areas where service is currently costly, unreliable and operating at roughly dial-up equivalent speeds.

Image Credits: SpaceX

In terms of pricing, SpaceX says in the emails that the cost for participants in this beta program will be $99 per moth, plus a one-time cost of $499 initially to pay for the hardware, which includes the mounting kit and receiver dish, as well as a router with wifi networking capabilities.

The goal eventually is offer reliably, low-latency broadband that provides consistent connection by handing off connectivity between a large constellation of small satellites circling the globe in low Earth orbit. Already, SpaceX has nearly 1,000 of those launched, but it hopes to launch many thousands more before it reaches global coverage and offers general availability of its services.

SpaceX has already announced some initial commercial partnerships and pilot programs for Starlink, too, including a team-up with Microsoft to connect that company’s mobile Azure data centers, and a project with an East Texas school board to connect the local community.

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Erratum for the Report “Meta-analysis reveals declines in terrestrial but increases in freshwater insect abundances” by R. Van Klink, D. E. Bowler, K. B. Gongalsky, A. B. Swengel, A. Gentile, J. M. Chase

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S. Rennie, J. Adamson, R. Anderson, C. Andrews, J. Bater, N. Bayfield, K. Beaton, D. Beaumont, S. Benham, V. Bowmaker, C. Britt, R. Brooker, D. Brooks, J. Brunt, G. Common, R. Cooper, S. Corbett, N. Critchley, P. Dennis, J. Dick, B. Dodd, N. Dodd, N. Donovan, J. Easter, M. Flexen, A. Gardiner, D. Hamilton, P. Hargreaves, M. Hatton-Ellis, M. Howe, J. Kahl, M. Lane, S. Langan, D. Lloyd, B. McCarney, Y. McElarney, C. McKenna, S. McMillan, F. Milne, L. Milne, M. Morecroft, M. Murphy, A. Nelson, H. Nicholson, D. Pallett, D. Parry, I. Pearce, G. Pozsgai, A. Riley, R. Rose, S. Schafer, T. Scott, L. Sherrin, C. Shortall, R. Smith, P. Smith, R. Tait, C. Taylor, M. Taylor, M. Thurlow, A. Turner, K. Tyson, H. Watson, M. Whittaker, I. Woiwod, C. Wood, UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) Moth Data: 1992-2015, NERC Environmental Information Data Centre (2018); .

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