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UT Students Rise to the Occasion of Pandemic Research

When the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium sent out a request for help, hundreds of undergraduate students answered the call

Ingle Photo

Before COVID-19, Tanvi Ingle, a UT biochemistry junior, spent much of her free time volunteering at the C.D. Doyle Clinic, a student-run, free clinic supported by Dell Medical School with an open door policy for uninsured patients. She was passionate about volunteering her efforts to make healthcare more accessible.

However, come March, the clinic temporarily closed down. Saddened by its sudden termination and the overall situation at hand, Ingle wanted to continue making an impact in some way and so she turned to research instead.

Ingle quickly joined the Meyers Lab, headed by Lauren Ancel Meyers, a top expert in epidemiology and a leading scientist on the, then newly formed, UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. This was UT’s network of interdisciplinary researchers and health professionals building models to detect, project, and mitigate the virus, which has now become an acclaimed research hub on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, informing real-time decisions state and nation-wide.

Looking to expand its impact in several research areas, the consortium recently reached out to the UT community for further support, and over 150 students rose to the occasion and applied for new positions across a dozen new projects. They will tackle challenges as varied as quantifying school reopening risks to simulating and analyzing vaccine trials.

Not only are UT undergrads bright and hardworking, but they bring fresh perspectives and a passion for making a difference in the world.

Lauren Ancel Meyers, Executive Director of the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium

Meyers is excited to welcome these new researchers. She said, “Not only are UT undergrads bright and hardworking, but they bring fresh perspectives and a passion for making a difference in the world. Students in the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium have conducted analyses that have helped the city of Austin and the world to understand and more safely navigate this unprecedented threat.”

Becky Kester, project manager at the consortium added that, “UT students’ skills, curiosity, and drive contribute in many ways — be it working on the way COVID-19 and influenza might interact or working on reports about limiting the transmission of diseases.”

Kester said while she knew UT undergraduates were eager to participate and get involved, she was still pleasantly surprised by this overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. This call will provide an unparalleled new opportunity for countless students looking to do impactful work remotely — much like it did with Ingle who started this past summer and will be continuing to volunteer her time there.

For her first project at the consortium, Ingle leveraged modeling to better allocate resources for the city of Austin. People who test positive for COVID-19 are highly advised to self isolate for the duration of their infectious period. However, not everybody has the privilege of a safe place to stay. In response to this, the city of Austin wanted to provide isolation rooms to aid its homeless population. They reached out to the UT COVID research consortium for an estimate on how many rooms they should book and Ingle was tasked with projecting this number.

Her work leverages a Meyers lab’s COVID-19 model which uses real-time data and statistical probability to project the number of people in Austin who would contract the virus. In collaboration with the city of Austin, public health, and the Dell Medical school, Ingle was able to determine what proportion of people experiencing homelessness would be tested and how many of those would test positive. With these parameters, they were then able to estimate the total number of individuals who would need an isolation room at any given time.

“Ultimately, our projections helped the city of Austin finalize lease agreements for isolation facilities,” said Ingle. “It was incredibly inspiring to see exactly how scientific research can shape public health outcomes in a positive way.”

Ingle said she was most drawn to this project because of her past experience at the clinic.

“I have a background working with people experiencing homelessness in a clinical setting and this particular project just stood out as a way for me to remain engaged in helping that population from a public policy angle and being able to help shape public policies that would most benefit them.”

It’s been such an amazing experience to work with and learn from scientists from a diverse range of disciplines from all across the nation.

Tanvi Ingle, UT biochemistry undergraduate

Ingle said this unique opportunity gave her the ability to combine her clinical experience with her technical skills to provide impactful solutions.

“It was such an incredible moment to see this issue of homelessness within Austin being approached in two different ways!“

Ingle is now working on evaluating the real impacts of the Austin stay at home order put in place from late March to mid-June — essentially studying how many infections, hospitalizations, and deaths it actually averted. She spoke more of what work is like.

“We communicate over a bunch of different platforms, but the real magic in the UT COVID-19 consortium lies in the collaborative spirit of the members,” said Ingle. “It’s been such an amazing experience to work with and learn from scientists from a diverse range of disciplines from all across the nation.”

For students looking to get involved who were unable to apply to the aforementioned positions, the consortium will also be participating in Science Sprints in November. These are one-day intensive events put on by the College of Natural Sciences to bring teams of 10-25 undergraduate students together to work on meaningful problems. Registration is open and students of all backgrounds are strongly encouraged to sign-up.

Ultimately, when the consortium needed help in their crucial battle against COVID-19, Longhorns answered the call. Today, Ingle is just one of many students contributing to critical research that will, in the end, impact how the rest of the pandemic plays out. She cannot recommend the consortium’s opportunities enough. “If you have an open mind and want to collaborate on some really cool research, then just reach out,” said Ingle. “The consortium’s just such a great space to grow and become a scientist, and today, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such an important effort.”

The University of Texas at Austin

On the Defense Against COVID-19

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