During this time, I have taught three online classes for a total of 9 hours (due to tech difficulties, this quickly becomes 10 hours) per week. I have worked for 14 hours per day (at the very least 80 hours/week of work with no weekend or break) to accommodate all of the needs associated with teaching, research and services during a crisis. In terms of research, I have also had to shut down lab work, which has cost me several thousand dollars of biologicals and work and the research will be delayed for at least three months. In addition to my work, I have a seven-year-old daughter in grade 2, who has also required care and assistance while Brandon School Division started online teaching.
The word to describe the effect this has had on students, faculty, and staff is “stress”. I have seen around me affected by COVID-19: anxious students, friends, colleagues, and families, here and abroad. Ironically my research focuses on how ‘oxidative stress cause chronic diseases in human’.
I have my entire family in India, right at the epicenter of Covid-19. Due to a time difference of 12 hours, I would stay up literally all night having conversation overseas and then be up all-day teaching or preparing for teaching.
As a dedicated professor and scientist, I am fully devoted to my services and always want what is best for my students. I feel threatened and angry by the government’s proposed cuts to higher education.
I am a history professor at the University of Manitoba, and it was amazing how quickly we went from talking about what might happen theoretically to being told that the campus was shutting down. In my second-year lecture course, I assured students the last time that we met that we would get through all the material for the course, and that we would be flexible and work together and do our best in a crazy and trying time.
Once I learned that we had to shift to an off-campus mode of learning, I started to record lectures using screencast software. I set up a makeshift office at a little desk in my kitchen, and recorded lectures in fifteen-minute bursts. I lugged home boxes of files so that I am able to continue my research at home. I have been peer-reviewing articles, writing book reviews, and revising my own publications in between marking and communicating with students. My workspace is often invaded by my kids and cat, my cat making an appearance during one of my recorded lectures, pushing a box of cereal off the counter as I tried to discuss the finer points of the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
I think that the thing that this whole experience has taught me is that content is not the same as instruction. You can't just hand someone a textbook and tell them to read it and say, well, that's your course. In the same way, there are all sorts of amazing things available online, but that is not the same thing as being taught a subject.
I have tried to keep lines of communication open with all of my students. I know that students are facing a lot of stress and anxiety - I have had students email or call me because they are worried about family members, or ask for extensions because they are working providing an essential service and can't juggle their schoolwork right now. And we have found solutions to make sure that people can be successful in their work and finish their courses. Students want to keep learning. We are working hard to make that happen.
The impact of COVID on my work has been very disruptive and has required extensive accommodations. Our department responded swiftly to the situation, rapidly moving all teaching to online platforms. While we did succeed in keeping our courses going, the whole process was very stressful, as the move required immediate learning of virtual platforms, as well as critical decisions regarding what material could be uploaded and how it could be added in the most meaningful manner. While managing that aspect, we had to deal with students’ high levels of anxiety and stress about not only their studies, but also the unfolding disruption of their lives.
Additionally, my position as chair of my department’s Honours Program has required constant, on-demand contact with students to help them navigate the new environment, especially for those who are graduating. These are specific situations that involve individual attention and consideration.
All of this is happening while receiving an immense amount of e-mails from our university, faculty, department, and union about unfolding rules and procedures. If anything, teaching and service demands have not diminished, but rather have increased.
Regarding research, as a specialist in Latin American history my research agenda has also been significantly impacted. Besides suspension of conferences, I have been forced to suspend research stays that are critical for my work, including the inability to access material through interlibrary loan. At the same time, I am working as best as I can on writing and revising a book manuscript, articles, and chapters based on the material that I already have in order to meet deadlines.
All of my research has taken a second seat, as dealing with students is the absolute priority. At a more personal level, my work from home has also involved negotiations of time and space with the rest of my family in order to conduct necessary academic work. Emotionally, having elderly relatives in Argentina, my native country and to where it is now impossible to travel in the case of an emergency, has added another layer of intense stress.
I am somehow managing to work from home full time despite considerable barriers - in my case, a 4 and 6 year old to care for. I work while they watch tv; after they go to bed; I answer emails every chance I can during the day while they are playing together. I work on the days my husband can take away from his own paid work outside of the household – which means this summer, that every single regular leave day, family leave day, holiday day, and banked day off he takes will be a day he minds the children so I can work.
After teaching in fall and winter terms, I catch up on my research in summer; I’m leading 2 teams and collaborating on another 6 projects which focus on social aspects related to older adults, family caregivers, and/or paid home care workers; we are trying to creatively adapt data collection and methods under these new challenging circumstances. There are some who think professors pull salary from grants they receive – this does not happen. I am supervising the work of 5 students who gain paid research experience on these projects, and one PhD student who is hoping to graduate this summer (a separate project unrelated to my research). I am on candidacy examining committees for 3 other PhD students this summer, and will continue to review portions of the writing of, and attend virtual meetings with the 10 graduate students in other departments, whose committees I serve on. I am currently writing reference letters for 2 students applying for scholarship funding. I have had multiple conversations with 3 graduate students applying to study under my supervision in the coming year. Other tasks land in my email inbox on a daily basis (for instance, in the last week I received 4 separate requests to collaborate on applications for new grants). I’m the Acting Chair for the Research Ethics Board in Psychology/Sociology, and serve on our department’s Graduate Admissions Committee. All of this continues through the summer.
My work depends heavily on support staff, who help me navigate complex university systems and bureaucracies that I still haven’t been able to figure out after nearly 10 years of working here. These staff help me pay my students, get reimbursed for out of pocket expenses, prepare end of year accounting information for granting agencies, maintain the security of research data, advise me on ethical issues related to research… the list goes on, because universities are distinctly collective institutions, as much as any of us like to attribute research ‘accomplishments’ to any one individual.