Have you seen the movie Contagion? It’s about a deadly virus that takes the life of many and sends the world into chaos while a group of scientists work to find a cure. It seemed realistic while simultaneously far-fetched, if that makes sense? Perhaps one of those, “it won’t happen to me” things, I don’t know. But I can tell you what I do know, I never thought I would be living through something similar to the movie Contagion.
It was around February before I really paid close attention to COVID-19, it was, after all, a world away in Asia. Then it came quickly to our doorstep and the seriousness of this deadly virus suddenly became very real. Within weeks it seemed everything was shutting down: my sons sports, then all the schools in the province and then the University I work at, Memorial University of Newfoundland, shut its doors and all classes moved to an online format with professors working from home. I am fortunate that I have a job where I can work from home at times and still be productive, it’s definitely one of the perks. But in the age of COVID-19 with the country basically on lockdown, no school and no sports, working from home looks and feels very different than some random day when I decide to stay home and write. Working from home now comes along with feeling pressure to be a professor/scientist, grade 5 teacher and playmate, all at the same time! Throw on things like making meals and keeping the house tidy(ish) and keeping physically active – the weight is tremendous. Weight that comes along with a large dose of guilt.
Oh the guilt. Guilt for not keeping in touch enough with my grad students, guilt for not keeping the house clean and tidy enough, guilt for not doing enough schoolwork with my son, guilt for doing my own work, guilt for not doing my own work, guilt for not playing with my son enough, guilt for playing with my son too much, guilt for wanting to relax when my wife comes home from work – who, by the way, is one of the many frontline heroes we keep hearing about. She is working her tail off as an occupational therapist at the Health Science centre. My guilt is nothing in comparison to her stress levels and though perspective is important that doesn’t diminish how much guilt I feel. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
So what should I being doing as a professor as I work from home? I should be preparing lectures for the Spring/Summer semester and writing papers now that I have all this time, right? Oh the guilt. When this first started I put a lot of work in upfront to get my course online and working well. Luckily for me I only had 1 grad course and an on-line course, so it wasn’t bad at all. I moved the grad course to online, did one short lecture and figured out how to let students submit presentations for evaluation – pretty easy actually. But here is the guilty part – I have not done much related to my research. It is tough. I need time to get into my writing and be able to think. I am an extremely slow, methodical writer at the best of times, let alone with all the feelings of guilt I have.
Adding to the guilt, or maybe some frustration actually, is seeing Tweets from academics around the world discussing how much time they have and how they can get so much done. Yeah, not happening, not here, not yet anyway. Good for you and all, but definitely not that easy from my end. Why? Because my biggest concern right now is my family. I want my son, 10 years old, to look back on this in years to come and tell his kids that “it wasn’t that bad” because he got to spend a lot of time with his dad. I want my wife to look back and say it was stressful but we made it through. And me, I want to look back without feelings of guilt knowing that I put my family first. The research is important and all, but as long as I keep my graduate students on target to help them get the things done that they need to (not pressure them), read some papers and maintain my undergraduate course, I’ll be content. And by content I mean not letting the guilt run me over like a steamroller.
I will continue to plug along and try not to stress and feel too guilty about everything all the time. My son is doing some math, we read together and we are playing together lots. We actually played the “Rainy Day Olympics” today. It consisted of mini-hoops, mini-sticks, super deker, curling, mini golf, NHL 20 on PS4, table hockey and darts. He won. He legit won and will be making a powerpoint presentation on the day as a journal of sorts later this evening. I’ll have dinner ready for when my wife comes home and try to be there for her when she needs a sounding board. I’ll talk with my grad students and help them whatever way I can. I’ll get some work done when I can, but the manuscript and the guilt can wait.
Til next time.