Monday, April 6, 2020

New profs in the age of COVID19 - @chavecito76


New Profs in the age of COVID19 - the series:

    - by Swanne Gordon @swannegordon

    - by Yoel Stuart @yestuart

    - by Amy Parachnowitsch @EcoEvoAmy

    - by Jaime Chaves @chavechito76


Jaime says hi from Galapagos. (Pic by Aspen Hendry.)

As a new pre-tenure professor hoping to open my lab to graduate students in the next semester, I am looking at the Fall 2020 semester with uncertainty and it seems to be a complicated year to build up a sound Tenure-Retention-Promotion dossier. Here are some points:

-I have accepted 4 graduate students to start in my lab, of which three live out of state. Not only is the housing market in California very challenging to many full-time students, but now we must consider the present COVID-19 situation which could also possibly hinder students’ relocations efforts. 

-When interviewing the candidates, one of the selling points to join my lab was the nature of the program: 1/3 fieldwork, 1/3 lab work, 1/3 bioinformatics. With the current situation, (i) fieldwork looks like something that might not happen in the near future (international travel bans to Ecuador-Galapagos), (ii) wet lab access could still have strong accessibility restrictions for the near future, and (ii) long delay in data generation (thousands of genomic projects put on hold most likely resuming activities under long queues).

Jaime in Galapagos. (Pic by Aspen Hendry)

-The freezing of research activities will put a dent in my lab's capacity to generate preliminary data, which in turn will be essential for future grant submissions and manuscripts production. Thus, funds to support graduate activities will be impacted and their terminal degrees could face additional challenges.

-Masters’ students are expected to finish their degrees in two years, which is usually the length of external support for this type of program. All my initial graduate students are seeking to obtain such funding so it is very probable that students might take longer than expected given the delays I mentioned. They would likely have to complete the program over a longer span of time which could jeopardize their access to continued funding.

-Seeing as I just started teaching as of the spring 2020 semester, teaching has been the only aspect of the activities expected of pre-tenure professors that I have been able to perform so far. Since moving fully online, the challenges have been to keep students motivated and engaged, and maintaining the impact of the in-person relationships developed earlier in the class. These concerns will be only measurable and examined at the end of the semester when we assess student’s learning outcomes. These unanticipated events could represent poor student evaluations and discontent during times when all faculty have been required to deliver instruction in an online format.

1 comment:

  1. Things that students can still do while cooped up at home, besides online classes: (1) Learn stats tools such as R, and learn relevant stats techniques. They will need those tools in the end, might as well learn them up front. (2) Reading papers, reading books, thinking about questions, writing review papers where appropriate; again, might as well do this up front. (3) Simulations and modeling; why not learn how to build an evolutionary model in SLiM? (Which – notice of conflict of interest – I am the author of :->) We (the scientific community) should also be talking about virtual conferences; students could certainly benefit from "attending" such conferences, seeing and giving talks, networking virtually with people in their area, etc., just as they do at in-person conferences, but we need to learn how to do this effectively. Finally, perhaps it makes sense to try to think of fieldwork that could be done locally; obviously there are things that make a place like the Galapagos especially interesting for science, but there are perhaps also interesting research problems one could investigate locally if one brainstormed for a while. I recall Andrew has done some interesting and publishable fieldwork in the ponds at his family's winery. Think outside the box. :-> (But yes, these are going to be very tough times for students and profs alike; I don't mean to minimize that at all, but rather, to make constructive suggestions about how to make the most of a bad situation.)


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