Sunday, May 10, 2020

New Profs in the age of COVID19 - @yestuart


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


Yoel Stuart

I started my position at Loyola University Chicago in Fall of 2019 but didn't start teaching undergraduate classes until January 2020. I remember hearing about COVID-19 (then just called a coronavirus, in an unknown-to-me place called Wuhan) during the first week of Spring classes. We discussed it that week. We were primed to pay attention because I had assigned Spillover, by David Quammen, as course reading, and therefore had a stroke of pedagogical (bad) luck to be teaching about emerging infectious diseases during an emerging pandemic. Needless to say, I wish my material wasn't quite so relevant to current events. We read the SARS chapter the week I took my class online. 

Looking for lizards in Florida. You'll see I was into face masks before they were vogue.

The Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Things I cannot change

I cannot change being locked out of my lab and office.

I cannot change cessation of lab data collection.

I cannot change that my technicians are quickly running out of work they can do at home (though see below).

I cannot change that classes are online.

I cannot change the absence of undergraduate students in my lab.

I cannot change daycare being closed.

I cannot change so many things.

I am trying not to worry about them.

Just me and my shadow in Nevada, looking for fossil stickleback. Socially distanced, right?

Things I can change, or rather, control:

I can control my writing. There are revisions and manuscripts to write. I can write for at least 30 minutes per day (and probably more, now that the semester is done).

I can control my grants. I have grants that would benefit from 30 minutes of writing a day.

I can control my data analysis. I have several projects that would benefit from 30 minutes of analysis per day.

I can train my technicians. Now is an opportunity develop their project design and writing skills. I can have them do literature searches for new project ideas and writing for completed projects. I can also help them apply to graduate school.

I can improve my courses. I had many ideas throughout the semester to make my classes better. I improve 30 minutes per day, starting by reaching out to my office of online learning.

I can keep a realistic calendar of things I want to accomplish each week. And then I can set about making those things happen.

I can change the way I approach my day, to reduce my stress levels and make me both a better worker and a better father and husband. COVID-19 means there is time for introspection. I’ve realized that my stress level is lowest if I get 30-60 minutes of writing done first thing in the morning. With two small kids at home, this means waking up at 6am (and forswearing that extra hour of faffing around at night). When I do this, I can be more present with my kids and spouse—a silver lining of the stay at home order. It also makes it easier to steal a few minutes here and there for administration and email later in the day.

I can donate to causes that need help and are important to me. This is a way to keep from feeling completely helpless.

I can count my blessings and acknowledge all the positive things in my life. I have a patient spouse with whom navigating this mess has been more or less smooth. I have two kids that play well together and give us enough time to stay sane. I have amazing co-workers at LUC and have received support at all levels here. Me and mine are safe, healthy, employed. I had great students; I’ll miss our tri-weekly meetings which provided landmarks during days that tend to blend together.

I can be gentle with myself and forgive myself for all the times that I fall short in my work, my parenting, my interactions, my gratitude. As much as one aims for serenity, false serenity is not helpful (Costanza, G., pers. comm.). We all lose it sometimes. That’s okay.


My son Lev, after playing "Windstorm" in the basement during COVID. Thank goodness for basements.

The wisdom to tell the difference

Can I safely conduct field work this summer? Can my graduate student safely conduct field work this summer? Can collaborative projects happen safely this summer? I ask the EEEE community for wisdom.

On the one hand, an argument could be made that solo travel to remote field sites is the social distancing. As long as I sleep in the truck, use gloves and masks at gas stations, minimize trips to gather food and supplies, quarantine for the 14 days before I leave, and otherwise, not interact with anyone, the risk of community spread is small. Right?

The counterargument is: the only way to minimize community spread is to stay at home. Full stop. Even gas station stops could be enough to contract and spread. And, were something to happen in the field: flat tire, broken arm, etc., I’d be creating a network of interactions that wasn’t necessary. And possibly taxing to a tired health care system. And, leaving my spouse with two toddlers, no daycare, and her working a fulltime job is not tenable. This means bringing a grandparent into our social circle. Risks there too.

How does one weigh the relative risks? How much responsibility do I have to granting agencies and taxpayers to conduct the research? Do I know the answer in my gut (stay home!) while my head tries to rationalize a field trip? I certainly recognize my conflict of interest. Preliminary data, personal advancement, and tenure are powerful motivators to build an argument that I could travel safely despite COVID having an R0 around 3. And yet… just because I have a conflict of interest doesn’t make safe travel impossible, does it?

What about post-doc collaborators and graduate students? They have careers and futures to secure in a way that I don’t. Does their field work warrant the relatively low risk of community spread in exchange for the very high personal cost of staying home—years of lost work, the end of grant funding with nothing to show for it, a year’s delay in receiving a degree, blank spots on the CV? Can one cap and trade risk? I’ll stay home but facilitate others?

More questions than answers. If there were a running header for COVID-19 during the first six months of 2020, I think ‘more questions than answers’ would be it.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Great questions. No idea what the right answers are.


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