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PICKING UP THE PIECES:

FINDING YOUR NEW NORMAL

AUGUST 2020

The first half of 2020 has been a doozy.

Many of us were faced with extreme anxiety during the beginning months of the year as our daily routines were disrupted with little time to adjust. For some, this might have caused persisting mental health conditions to worsen due to tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding our personal and professional lives.

August typically marks a new beginning for graduate students - a new school year, perhaps a new lab, new undergrads, and new classes. It can be hard enough to get back into a rhythm after a "normal" summer, but this summer

- this entire new year -

has been anything but normal. 

 

After months of working from home and adjusting to a new “normal," we are now faced with another challenge as we potentially return to work and learn in public spaces, despite having no vaccine for COVID-19. In spite of safety regulations put in place, you might not feel comfortable returning to lab, especially if you have underlying health issues.


How do you pick up the pieces and adjust to this new, hostile, unhealthy world while trying to navigate the start of another academic year in graduate school?


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Through the following four modules, you will learn how to embrace new working conditions. You'll navigate your emotions related to potentially returning to work in a public space. You'll navigate the pressure to make up for "lost time" as research ramps back up. Lastly, you'll  be provided with resources that you can use to advance your career if you're unable to continue your research. 

Digital Chronometer

Digital Chronometer

Mudra Meditation

Mudra Meditation

Image by Road Trip with Raj

Image by Road Trip with Raj

Sleeping Cat

Sleeping Cat

Image by Francisco Venâncio

Image by Francisco Venâncio

Image by ray sangga kusuma

Image by ray sangga kusuma

Checking Text on a Document

Checking Text on a Document

Man with Medical Mask

Man with Medical Mask

Image by ThisisEngineering RAEng

Image by ThisisEngineering RAEng

MODULE 1

Embracing New Working Conditions

August 2 - 8, 2020

After weeks inside working remotely, life is slowly but surely becoming more familiar. You might even be returning to your physical work space at your institution.

 

But there's a catch - a "new normal" comes with many changes.


You might need to maneuver your time in the lab/workplace in a way that allows you to socially distance, but it can be daunting to meticulously plan out your work to accommodate others and your institution's restrictions. In turn, this stress can cause a great deal of anxiety and may even exacerbate mental health battles.

In Discord, share some of your feelings, concerns or worries about juggling your classes and research with pandemic necessities. 

It can help to set weekly goals to keep yourself accountable and make the most of your limited time in your new working conditions.

 

Explore the below apps to help plan and accomplish your goals: 


Todoist

Clockify
WeekCal
Tiny Calendar

Keep in mind that advance planning also includes ensuring you have all the materials you need to complete a task and have a labmate/coworker on virtual standby in case you need immediate help. Connect with labmates/coworkers ahead of time, and check your inventory to ensure your project runs smoothly. 

Remember to be patient with yourself and list realistic goals, realizing that you may have less time in lab/work and less mental headspace than you did pre-pandemic. 

 Although you may not be spending as much time on your work or in your typical physical workspace as you did pre-pandemic, implementing the use of a calendar will keep you on track and hopefully help you feel less overwhelmed.

 

In addition, being able to visually see yourself accomplish your goals acts as a physical reminder of your progress and productivity

In Discord, discuss how using a visual task-tracking app or calendar has helped you transition back into your research.

MODULE 2

Addressing Your Anxieties

August 9 - 15, 2020

Many of us are anxious about returning to our pre-pandemic places of study and work because of uncertainty about safety precautions on our campuses.

 

You might be questioning whether it is even safe to return at all, especially with so many resistant to wearing masks and social distancing.

One of best way to address this uncertainty is to educate yourself on your university’s plan to bring students, faculty and staff back to campus, and how they plan to tackle the inevitable rise in cases associated with reopening your campus. If plans are unclear, ask specific questions on areas that need clarifications to your PI or department.

In Discord, share what your university's policies are regarding reopening. What are you most worried about if you return?

Self-awareness is essential to addressing anxiety. If you can better understand the cause of your anxiety, you can better address it.

 

Notice and get curious about the stress and other negative emotions you feel as you return to working in a public space.

 

If you feel your heartbeat racing or your body tensing up, evaluate your surroundings to determine the cause. Be sure not to attach any emotions - good or bad - to the way you are feeling. Just simply observe without judgement.

 

Incorporate some of the meditation   tricks you learned during the Stronger Together June module to help you cultivate awareness and better navigate your feelings. 

 

Integrate self-care practices into your new daily routine to help support your mental and physical health. 

 

Simple practices such as packing a well-balanced lunch, taking quick stroll around the block while your samples incubate, practicing yoga, and getting quality sleep can support your mind and body to keep your brain in a healthy state. 

MODULE 3

Managing Expectations as Research Ramps Up

August 16 - 22, 2020

Your usual productivity has understandably declined over the past few months due to the difficulties associated with COVID-19 and racial unrest.

 

Some of us are reentering the labs and beginning our experiments again with high hopes of making up for lost time, and our PIs are eager to “crank out data” to compensate for the time we spent at home.

 

Journal about any anxieties you might be having over the need to put in more effort than usual to make up for lost time. Be curious about why you feel this way. Where do these expectations stem from? Consider sharing these thoughts with others in the PDB Discord.

 

Know that trying to make up for lost time by overworking yourself, especially during this delicate time of transition, can negatively impact your physical and mental wellbeing. 

Despite our eagerness to collect data as quickly as possible, we might not be able to just pick back up where we left off.

 

Maybe some of your collaborators are still working from home, some of the core facilities you use are still shut down, or you are still unable to conduct your fieldwork. You might have even spent months perfecting a technique before your research was shut down, and now it will take just as long to remaster these skills.

 

None of this is your fault.

 

How you can give yourself grace and accept that it will take time to resume your usual work capacity?

Share your thoughts in Discord, or explore them within the safety of your journal.

After months of working from home, it’s expected that you will feel out of practice with working full days at school.

 

You might find yourself mentally or physically exhausted after just a few hours or unable to devote all of your attention to your work because of the continued unrest in the world.

It's essential you strike a good work-life balance now, even if still aren't working at your pre-pandemic capacity. Check out this video to hear why other grad students need time for themselves, and get inspired by the ways they do this.   

 

In Discord, share ideas with other graduate students on how you can be honest with yourself - and your mentor - about your mental and physical capacities for work at this moment.

 

Discuss ways to tell your mentor you need to slowly ease back into things if it doesn’t feel like you can jump back into an 8+ hour work day.

 

If you need some ideas for where to start, check out this document with conversation starters you can adapt to fit your needs.

MODULE 4

Opportunities Outside of Research

August 23 - 29, 2020

Although efforts are being made to allow graduate students to return to campus, we understand that not everyone’s research is easily picked back up.

As with a stock portfolio, we want to diversify our interests. However, we also want to invest in areas we value. especially if we cannot quickly resume our research.

 

Many of us graduate students value learning and exploring.

Academic pursuits certainly can fill this role, but it can also help to 'diversify your learning portfolio' by dedicating time to other areas, such as exploring different fields with free courses on Couresera (they even have one for wine tasting!) or trying to learn a new language.
 


 

If are finding yourself disheartened in this situation, we understand and empathize with you. 

 

COVID-19 has affected many lives and although businesses are picking back up, we cannot easily erase the emotional and financial toll the pandemic has had on all lives.

 

If you have some extra time to spare, seek out opportunities on how to help your community rebuild.

 

Visit your community’s local food bank to lend a hand or donate food and/or money to those in need. Show support to small businesses, especially those owned by people of color and other marginalized identities, in your community that are fighting to stay alive.

Check out these volunteer opportunities:

Take actions to prepare for the next stage in your career, no matter if you are a first or seventh-year student.

 

Use this time as an opportunity to update your CV/resume, build a professional presence on LinkedIn or Twitter, and connect with old mentors. 

Poster

Tips to Smoothly Transition into a New Academic Year

August 31, 2020

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