The end of academia?

We have all been working remotely for a number of weeks now. In the quiet moments, which is my home are few and far between (and, honestly, I’m really grateful for that), many of us think about what the future will look like. How will the pandemic play out? Will our loved ones be ok? What will happen to our jobs, our friends jobs, our neighbor’s?

I run a research lab. We work at the bench. Everyone is anxious to return. During our last group meeting, everyone wanted to get back to the lab as soon as possible. I do, too…. but then I pause. I want to get back to research. There are so many unanswered questions. But the last thing I could ever want is to put my students, their families, or our community at greater risk. What if we became an inadvertent hub for transmission even with all of us trying to maintain social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks, wiping things down. It scares me greatly.

I have colleagues who are looking at the finances and wondering if their universities can survive if they have to open online in the Fall. I have other colleagues who wonder if their departments or mission or institutions will be fundamentally changed by the pandemic. They’re scared. We all really love what we do.

But, I think it is time to stop being scared and time to start doing what we can do really well– envision a new future. How can we make lab classes hands on and accessible even if students start out at home in the Fall? (I am a huge fan of the research care package. It is incredible, when one gets over what one usually does to think about what one might do.) Maybe, some of that would help make classes more accessible moving forward.

How can we build community when people don’t have a history and don’t know each other and can’t even be in the same room? What if we have small groups– 3-4 led by a more senior student. What if those become the basis for learning communities? It isn’t the same, but maybe it is a way to build things out and help make things more interactive than they currently are.

Whatever we do, we have to go back to basics. What are the learning objectives? There is always more than one way to do something. What we have done may work well in person, but what can we do that gets to the same objective with different tools? How do we connect? What helps us feel part of each other?

I am a huge fan of stopping to rethink what we’re doing and why on a regular basis. Perhaps, one positive in the absolute awfulness of a pandemic is to stop and think. To innovate. To engage. To develop new ways to be inclusive. And to carry that with us through the other side of this. Something good can come from this if we create it. I, for one, am starting with research care packages.


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