By Karin Bodewits Mar. 16, 2020 , 12:40 PM
“Classes are cancelled, exams are being re-scheduled, university buildings are staying shut, meetings are being postponed indefinitely,” a Ph.D. student who is based in Austria tweeted last week. “Now what am I supposed to do?”
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the world, many academics are of course dealing with greater concerns, such as the health of family, friends, or themselves. (See Science’s coronavirus coverage here.) But for those free of illness and related burdens, and stuck at home, what do you do with your time? Here are some ideas for scientists who suddenly find themselves working from home.
1. Take care of yourself.
As a first step, don’t neglect your physical and mental health. Meditate. Do jumping jacks in your living room. Practice yoga. Whatever it is that works for you, do what it takes to care for your body and mind.
2. Learn a new skill.
Let’s face it. If you’re stuck at home, you’re probably not going to become an expert on how to run a mass spectrometer. But you could beef up your computer programming skills—for instance, by learning how to create a fancy new graph in R or how to produce documents in LaTeX. You could also read a book about a new topic or circle back to that online course that you never finished.
3. Revisit that long forgotten project.
Somewhere in the deep, dark depths of your computer’s file system, do you have an unfinished manuscript or unpublished data? If so, then you might want to use this time to dust off the files and figure out whether what you have is, in fact, publishable.
4. Promote your work online.
Consider devoting time to a bit of marketing. Does your personal website need updating? Have you been meaning to set up a Twitter profile and learn what hashtags are? Would you like to write a popular science article? Or create a YouTube video about your research? If so, this might be the perfect time to wiggle your way out from underneath the rock you’ve been living under and find new avenues for connecting with other researchers and sharing your work. If you’re struggling with social isolation at home, then social media might also help with that—giving you a way to interact and commiserate with other scientists, such as those on #AcademicTwitter.
5. Create a graphical abstract of your research.
Graphical abstracts—self-explanatory visual summaries of the main findings of your research—are an increasingly popular way to communicate science. They take time to make, but they are a perfect eye-catcher and are recyclable. Once you’ve made one, you can place it on posters, presentation slides, papers, and social media platforms. It could even help you build your personal brand.
6. Apply for funding.
You might benefit from spending time scouring the internet for fellowships, grants, and awards. Don’t just look in the most obvious places, such as federal grant agency websites. Take a look around for industry awards, lower profile fellowships, and little pots of research funding that you might be able to apply for. Even if you don’t receive an award, the process of applying will help you master the skill of grant writing.
7. Think about your career plans.
When you’re in the lab, it’s easy to focus on your next experiment and neglect long-term career planning. So, consider using some of your homebound time to learn more about yourself and your career options. You could read a book about career planning, test out career options with online job simulations, or use free introspection tools, such as myIDP. These things will help you reflect on the skills you have, brainstorm skills you’d like to develop, and think about where you see yourself headed in the future.
8. Conduct informational interviews.
If you have a few ideas about jobs that might interest you, then take this time to reach out to professionals who currently hold those jobs. In the midst of a pandemic, it’s not appropriate to ask them to meet up for coffee. But you can ask them for a quick phone call or Skype chat. The reality is that the people whom you’d like to speak with may be working from home too. What’s more, they might be itching for more social contact. So, informational interviews could be a good way to break isolation, learn about someone’s career, and build a network, while still keeping a distance.
9. Be nice to your fellow humans.
If you live with others, being cooped up with them fulltime might be less fun than you imagined it to be. Channel your frustrations into something harmless—for instance, by punching a pillow, exhausting yourself with pushups, or placing a tea towel between your teeth and screaming as loud as you can. Whatever you do, don’t punch anyone.
10. Do fun stuff.
Close your eyes and think back to the time before you went to grad school. What was giving you joy? Is there an old hobby you can pick up again? One upside of your home confinement is that you no longer need to spend time commuting back and forth to work. Can you reallocate that time to doing something that will bring you joy—or, at the very least, alleviate some stress?
It’s an incredibly turbulent time for most of us. Take care of yourself and others, and remember to wash your hands!