Academic Parenting During a Pandemic

Post authors: Dana Turjeman, Sondra Turjeman, and Meghan Duffy

This began as a subsection of the post from last week on going back to a new normal as academia begins to reopen, but it became so lengthy that we made it its own post. Students who are parents are often an overlooked group, and advisers who are parents might keep their personal and work lives pretty separate. Certainly, we know from conversations with other academic parents with school-aged (or younger!) children that many of us are trying to figure out how to juggle this new and ever-changing situation. There can be a sense of being alone in trying to figure this out, and sometimes there is little acknowledgment from our institutions or colleagues about the additional challenges for parents with children. We hope that sharing resources, strategies, and concerns will be useful to parents, and will also give people who are not currently home with children a little more insight into some of the things their colleagues are juggling — a little empathy can go a long way.

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Guest post: 8 Lessons for Teaching over Zoom

Post author: Morgan Tingley

It has been a long ten weeks. As SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, was spreading rampantly across the United States in late March, most colleges and universities were returning from spring break, looking forward to finishing the academic year and the relief of summer. Here at the University of California – Los Angeles, however, we are on a quarter system, and our new “spring term” started on March 30th, just two weeks after campus officially closed and all classes moved online. As campuses shuttered across the country, an incredible diversity of resources were shared online for how to teach remotely. These resources often included conflicting advice, and also frequently assumed that instructors had months or years to re-design courses around online education.

After quickly becoming both overwhelmed and frustrated with the available advice, I figured that if I just entered the term with a sense of both humor and empathy, the students and I would be able to figure it out. Ten weeks later I’ve emerged mostly unscathed and feeling vastly more proficient at remote lecturing. So for those of you who are currently enjoying your summer breaks, but are starting to feel nervous about the fall (or spring 2021) semester, I’ve assembled below my top lessons for teaching over Zoom.

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Going back to (a new) normal: reflections from three academics as universities and society begin to re-open

Post authors: Dana Turjeman, Sondra Turjeman, and Meghan Duffy

This blog is directly connected to a post two of us (Dana and Meghan) published on March 15, right as things in the US were beginning to shut down due to COVID-19. In many places, discussions on re-opening the economy are at full speed (even though many places are still seeing significant, and even rising, levels of infection). We’re now moving into a phase where more people are going back to work (including in labs and doing fieldwork), and where people are increasingly moving about. 

While there are important benefits to a slow, thoughtful re-opening, this doesn’t mean everything is back to normal. The virus is here to stay at least until a vaccine or a cure, or both, become widely available. As things reopen, members of the scientific and academic communities will likely face challenges that will surface for the first time (even as we recognize how fortunate we are that we still have paying work). Here we raise some of the potential challenges that are likely to arise in the coming months. This time, we’re excited to add a third author, Sondra Turjeman, a PhD student in EEB at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

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Guest Post: Balancing academia and chronic illness

Today’s post is a guest post by Sue Baker, a Research Fellow at the University of Tasmania. Here’s the post:

In this post I will share my experience of being an ecologist while also being chronically ill. I was inspired by Meghan’s posts sharing her experiences of battling anxiety. I think chronic illness (CI) can be a bit like mental health problems in that people rarely talk about it and may feel rather isolated, but I’m guessing there are a bunch of us out there. I’m hoping that people can use the comments to share their own experiences and suggestions to others (note this can be anonymous). It would be great if ‘healthy’ people could also read and contribute, as having supportive colleagues and employers might make the difference between people continuing to work or not. I’ll start by explaining my health issues and how I adjusted my work and other aspects of my life. In my case it is (hopefully!) a good news story in that two years ago I got a diagnosis and am, very slowly, improving with treatment.

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Guest post: Suggestions from a Wellness Counselor on Coronavirus and Managing Mental Health

Kate Hagadone is the Wellness Counselor at Michigan Medical School’s Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies (OGPS). She sent the information in this post to an OGPS listserv at the end of last week. I thought the information would be of interest to lots more folks, so, with her permission, am reproducing her email here:

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Guest post: Personal journeys towards developing quantitative skills

This post is by Isla Myers-Smith and Gergana Daskalova, from the University of Edinburgh

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Gaining quantitative skills takes you on a journey. When we start, many of us feel like we are behind and can never catch up. Those who feel too overwhelmed may never start the journey at all. And if we want to enhance diversity within the field of quantitative ecology, we need to overcome the fear factor in quantitative training. Reflections on our own quantitative journeys highlight that the major roadblock is taking that first step to bridge the quantitative skills gap. In the following blog post, we tell two interwoven stories of personal journeys towards developing quantitative skills to highlight how things can be different for the next generations of ecologists.

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Some Advice for PhD Students and Their Mentors in the Time of Coronavirus

This blog post started as an email conversation between Dana Turjeman and Meghan Duffy. Dana turned her initial outline into a twitter thread (starting here). We decided it would be fun (and hopefully helpful!) to turn this into a blog post that expands on these ideas. So, here are the perspectives of a PhD student and a faculty member who are trying to figure out how to maintain mental health and also hopefully some productivity, but that definitely comes second to physical & mental health while social distancing.

First, this assumes that you are not going about your normal routine, but, rather, trying to stay home as much as possible. This is strongly encouraged! If you aren’t sure of why, please read this.

Here’s our advice:

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Productivity, planning, and self-care: work-life balance requires planning ahead

As I’ve done work related to Michigan’s Grad Student Mental Health task force, and done my own “regular” work this semester, I’ve realized that discussions related to self-care and work/life balance often focus on things like making sure you get enough sleep or leaving time to go for a run or do yoga or things like that, but they leave out something important: if you want to do all those things (and I think they’re extremely important) and still submit manuscripts and proposals with deadlines, get feedback to lab folks in a timely manner, etc., you need to plan ahead. 

I’d been thinking about this for a while, but then had a really great conversation with a colleague about this that led to me coming up with this framework:

Top axis is "work-life balance/self care", right axis is "Plan ahead?" and left axis is "highly deadline motivated"

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Some things that helped me make it through a particularly busy semester

This past fall was quite busy for me, and I was worried at the start about whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew. The big things taking up time were teaching over 600 students in Intro Bio and chairing a university task force on graduate student mental health, but it was also important to me that people in my lab not have to go the whole semester without getting feedback on their manuscripts, and there were also a couple of grant deadlines that I really didn’t want to miss. I knew this would be a lot, so I did my best before the semester to set up a structure that would hopefully help me through my particularly busy semester. And it worked pretty well! Things weren’t perfect, but I did the things that needed to be done and think I did them reasonably well, and I came out of the semester with my mental health intact. I think a few things really helped with managing things, and I’m hoping that sharing them might be useful to other folks, hence this post.

I’ll expand on each of these below, but the short version of my strategy is:

  1. Block off time for everything
  2. Say no to lots of things
  3. Work with good people
  4. Celebrate the wins
  5. Remember that the bar is not perfection

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How much evidence is there that we should aim to write every day? And are their downsides to suggesting that people aim for that?

As a postdoc, I read Robert Boice’s Advice for New Faculty Members. I think it helped me a lot as I started my first faculty position: I blocked off time for writing, learned how to use short chunks of time productively, and tried to make sure I still got research done even while I was teaching new courses. Until fairly recently, I would have considered myself strongly on Team Boice. I have recommended his book and his approach to people over the years, including one of the ideas he’s best known for: That we should aim to write every day. Now, I’m less sure how strongly to recommend his books, and my advice on how to be a productive writer has changed.

So what changed?

First, I was on a panel with a colleague of mine who is very productive. The panel was for early career folks and there was a question about how to balance all the different demands on your time as an early career faculty member, including how to still maintain research productivity while doing all the other things new faculty need to do. I preached the Boice gospel: You have to learn how to work in small chunks of time, you have to block off time for writing regularly, you can’t wait until you have a full day to write, etc. My colleague was like “yeah, that doesn’t work for me. If I have a free half hour or even hour, I will waste it. I can’t write in that time.” Instead, he structures his weeks so that there’s at least one big chunk of time where he can write.

I was shocked – this was the wrong advice to be giving! He was leading them astray! This is not the way to get off to a strong start as an assistant professor!

Or maybe not? At that time, I would have said that I followed Boice’s advice, but, looking back, I realize I was only following parts of it. Most notably, I actually wasn’t really writing every day, and I’m not sure if I ever did that as a faculty member. I block off at least one morning a week for writing. Unlike my colleague, I do try to get some writing done in smaller blocks of time, too, though I am more likely these days to save up email for those small blocks of time and try to tackle as much of it then as I can. Overall, I do a lot of writing and editing by blocking off 2-4 hour blocks of time in my calendar.

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