SBQMI teams adapt to COVID-19’s impact on operations

30 Apr2020

Science goes on, even as the rest of the world slows to a pause and COVID-19 sees the University of British Columbia’s campuses largely shuttered. In the eight weeks since we closed our physical doors and opened ourselves up to remote work, much has changed; the teamwork inherent to the success of the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI) has not.

Our research and operations teams continue to work together on activities ranging from conference planning for 2021, grant applications and award nominations, online staff and student training, year-end financial reporting and business development. And while in-person research activities have been suspended for applied teams, for the theoretical teams much of the work continues with minimal interruption.

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“It’s been a challenging time for our technical teams, but we’ve managed to pivot to new ways of doing things,” said Pinder Dosanjh, SBQMI Operations Manager. Dosanjh checks in at SBQMI twice per week to ensure equipment is secure. Gary Lockhart, Building Manager for the Advanced Materials & Process Engineering Laboratory (AMPEL) is in the building every day to deal with urgent issues as they arise, and Irina Romanova, Administrator for AMPEL, visits twice per week to manage research-related purchases and shipments as they come in so that when campus re-opens to staff and faculty, building operations can resume as efficiently as possible.

For the technical teams working from home, this has been a time to focus on designing new processes and protocols. Administrative teams, including Finance, Grants Facilitation, and Human Resources, continue to work to keep business processes ongoing.

“Early on there was a bit of a psychological shift we had to make, which made things a bit challenging at first, but now I can see that people are in good spirits,” said Dosanjh. “The sense of community that we have has remained, and in some ways may be stronger than ever.”

A number of staff members started with the Institute in the weeks immediately before and after UBC shifted to remote work, and it has been important to ensure they are buoyed as they learn and are productive in their new roles. Steve Gou, a new Project Manager who had only three days in the office before the shutdown on March 17, credits an active Slack network and Zoom for helping him get up to speed and immersed in his projects so quickly.

“There is considerable support, and what we can’t realize immediately we’re setting in motion for the future,” said Gou.

SBQMI teams have been using Slack and Zoom, as well as a custom internal calendar developed by Systems Analyst and Network Administrator Ovidiu Toader, to keep in contact professionally and socially. While many seminars and meetings have moved online, so have casual opportunities to connect, such as Donut Day. In addition, we have seen Zoom concerts hosted by our own musicians, and a new Family and Friends Seminar Series where researchers talk about their work in straightforward language.   

“I am pleased with how we have managed to work together through all of these changes,” said SBQMI Scientific Director Andrea Damascelli. “Now more than ever it is apparent that SBQMI is a special place supported by incredible people.”

While we have missed our researchers and students as lockdowns have kept us apart, we are encouraged by several recent Research2Reality stories highlighting our faculty members:

We look forward to working together at SBQMI again soon, but in the meantime: stay safe, wash your hands, and take care. For updates on UBC's COVID-19 response, visit

  • COVID-19