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Work/Life Adjustments in the Age of COVID-19

image of a small fish  jumping out of a small fish bowl into a larger one
by Brian A. Eiler and the Early Career Committee

Quite a lot has changed since convention and we are all dealing with ambiguity, rapid change, and a new set of expectations as it relates to COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus. Our personal and professional lives have been constrained, shifted, or altered dramatically in ways we don’t have practice with yet. If you’re a member of SPSP, you probably know that people aim to maintain predictability, belonging, and purpose. If you’re an early career person, or support those of us who are, below are some of the issues we are thinking about, along with some resources and helpful ideas—mostly borrowed and repurposed virtually (our new way of life!) from our colleagues.

If you’re moving to teaching online…

…like most others, you probably weren’t trained for this, your class wasn’t designed for this, and the students didn’t sign up for this. Great, let’s do this. It’s ok to do it imperfectly. Don’t worry about evaluations, tenure concerns, or how you are going to implement ALL your courses with no prep time. Just start and nudge yourself to try new things and it will get easier. Small changes: record your plans for online classes in a video and post it instead of emailing, set up a FAQ discussion board, cross off any activities that need to be completed in person even if you don’t know how to fill them in yet. A great conceptual resource for thinking about online teaching can be found here. Find your institution’s resources if they have them for technology support, instructional design support, or your specific situation. Publishers are rolling out resources so if you use a textbook, check them too. Lean on the community and pool resources. At my institution we have a Google doc that is being updated to collate resources in a single location. Here are some other helpful links that can give you an idea of what’s out there:

How do I work from home?

Sounds like a good time to (re)assess how you do work in general. If you don’t know, take stock. Think about when you were in a flow and try to recall personal, environmental, and/or situational impacts. Use whatever space you have to recreate those that you can. Again, small pushes—wear shoes, grab something from your office, wear headphones, sit by a window, confiscate some space in your home and rearrange, whatever you can do with what you have. Here’s another article that seems reasonable about working from home. Another suggestion we’ve seen is to make task-based goals (e.g., get feedback from co-authors, put up new lessons in learning management system) rather than time-based goals (e.g., work on this paper for an hour, sit in front of my computer all day).

Kids at home make things a little more complicated. Because people have many different levels of support or access to resources (including none), there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. I’m in favor of a coordination approach—try to synchronize your home and work life as much as you can. Examples: teach during naps, do “school time” together, adjust your work schedule to before or after bedtime, send your kids to play by themselves, too much TV, you get the point. Be flexible (I’m sure my 2.5 year old will end up in at least one or two of my online classes) and remember kids learn from their caregivers.

Some tips:

My research…

Remember that research is a process with many parts. Figure out which ones you can shuffle or what you have started that can be done in isolation. If you have students, develop a clear plan for how to keep them (or not) involved in projects. If you’re collecting data, check with your IRB at your institution to see if you can move in-person studies online. Unsolicited advice—document how your research is impacted in real time. Your future self will thank you while writing grant reports, putting together a tenure dossier or performance review, and might help you fend off bouts of imposter syndrome or inadequacy a year from now. Federal funders have already indicated they plan to be flexible with grant applications, awards, participant recruitment, and no cost extensions. Remember to use some of your new (or improved) tech skills for implementing online learning and use those to continue working with your awesome collaborators! And make sure to save all files to remote servers and virtual—boxes for access at home! If you have many lab computers, making sure you have everything accessible remotely is key!

My conference was canceled

Conferences can be important for any number of reasons (e.g., visibility, forming new collaborations, learning new skills) and can be even more detrimental for earlier career members when canceled. Good thing we just got done conferencing at SPSP where our biggest disruption was the fire alarm! Seriously though, according to the Twitterverse keeping conferences on your CV like below seem like the norm. Some conferences may go virtual, or create online spaces for presenting your work (e.g., a Twitter hashtag, conference webpage, a sub-Reddit). Keep an eye out for important info for upcoming conferences as well, given that many may be waiting to make official decisions. Here’s what Nature had to say about it. APA has also published guidelines on how to report on your CV here. Also, if you have that brown bag invitation to speak? Be open to giving that talk via Zoom or other platforms. Turns out distance socializing (rather than social distancing) can also make a world of difference during this time!

Building digital communities

One community that is supportive, shares resources, is oftentimes humorous, and doesn’t require physical contact is academic social networking. There was an excellent session on social media presence at SPSP this year. If you are already a digital native, help others get connected. If not, pick a social media platform (Facebook and Twitter are probably the most popular) and check it out. You’ll find shared resources, interesting discussions, and a community of your peers to share with. If you’re feeling particularly deprived of interaction, social virtual reality might be your thing.

Taking care of yourself

There is a plethora of information out there about self-care related to the coronavirus pandemic. TLDR: wash your hands and practice as much “distance socializing” as you are able. Think about others and yourself (there’s some good science on “putting the self in perspective” or quieting the ego) in your everyday actions. Try to maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule, which is important for immune function and general psychological well-being.  Above all, give yourself breaks and practice whatever form of quieting the world around you you are comfortable with (e.g., mindfulness, spending time in nature, exercising, binging Netflix, cats, yoga, whatever). And remember, giving to others can increase happiness so feel free to support a small business and buy a gift card, go shopping for one of your older neighbors, put together supplies for kids in need, and generally just support one another.

The Early Career Committee is here for you. If you have suggestions, helpful insights, or something broader to share use SPSP Connect! You can also reach out to us individually.

Authored by Brian A. Eiler (with input from all ECC members)

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