Hobbling, If Not Running

The week started off well, with two papers coming back with minor revisions. Not a moment too soon, as I’ve got major grants expiring and needing to be renewed later this year. My group does theory and simulation, and we’ve done better than experimental groups amid the pandemic, but it hasn’t been completely without a hitch. Over the first several months, students were bewildered and deeply stressed. The political turmoil hasn’t helped, as my students follow current events quite closely and have seemed really worried.

While their access to work hasn’t really been restricted in the same way that experimentalists’ work temporarily has (though people are back in most labs according to socially distanced measures), the fact that many of my students live alone and have not seen anyone familiar in person in months, and that the dark  pandemic clouds overhead have repeatedly clashed with the even darker clouds of political unrest, I would say that it’s no surprise that our output last year has not been what it would normally be.

I’ve focused heavily on everyone’s mental well-being, encouraging students to take breaks, making sure not to push if they seemed overwhelmed.

We’ve managed to get four papers submitted in the last few months, two more are about to go in, and at least two more by end of spring.

What’s most important is that we’ve done some great work despite the pandemic, resolved some head-scratchers, and had some long-standing projects come together quite beautifully. I hope this level of productivity will be enough and the new data exciting enough to propel us into the new funding cycle.

How’s your 2021 been so far, academic blogosphere? 

3 comments

  1. Experimentalist here. Yes, we’re back in lab. But th social distancing aspect with lab work is horrible, not just because of lost time of working in staggered shifts, but in the social isolation. Sitting in a dark room, taking measurements for hours on end is hard enough when you have you colleagues and friends around to grab a coffee/lunch/beer with to break up the day, but it’s absolutely horrible when you have to do this type of work alone. The building is dead without the staff and theory/modeling colleagues around either. I have student leaving the PhD program because they’ve decided research isn’t for them – and with these type of working conditions, I don’t blame them (I’ve also been taking the putting mental health first approach). It’s disrupting so much of my personnel and work that the downstream consequences are going to last for a long time. I just pray that grant evaluators recognize this and tenure evaluators remember this X years down the line, but I’m not too hopeful.

  2. It makes me happy that your group is making progress despite everything.

    I have been spending time in the lab, learning some new techniques. I actually quite enjoy being alone in the lab because being around other people I don’t know well stresses me out. I don’t have a lot of tangible results but I am enjoying the time to learn new things.

  3. I had my first committee meeting yesterday (delayed 10 months because of the pandemic, it was supposed to be March 2019) and I was really relieved to hear them say that I am on track to graduate in May 2022 (my expected end date before the pandemic). They were generous and kind and said that I have done well with my productivity – even though I kind of felt like I had accomplished very little since coming back. We will have another meeting in a few months to make sure I stay on track. But it was such a relief to know that our timelines are on the same page.

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