What Not To Say to Grad Students During a Pandemic – WOC Guest Post

I saw this thread on Twitter and invited Fay Lin to submit it as a guest post for the blog. Thank you, Fay.

Fay is a 4th year PhD candidate in Biochemistry at UCLA, where she uses math modeling to study biological networks in immune response. Outside of research, she is a passionate mental health advocate in higher education. Follow @xiaofei_lin.

WE ARE STILL SOLICITING POSTS FROM WOMEN OF COLOR, ESPECIALLY BLACK WOMEN, MOST PARTICULARLY ON ANYTHING RESPONSIVE TO THE CURRENT PANDEMIC AND FINANCIAL FALLOUT. PLEASE EMAIL ME WITH PROPOSALS, IDEAS, DRAFTS AT GETTENURE@GMAIL.COM. WE PAY $100 FOR ACCEPTED POSTS.

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Dear academics – Please avoid the following phrases during COVID19:

1. “It’s a great time to work on coding/writing/etc.”

For some, working from home has challenges such as child care, mental health struggle due to social isolation, etc., which make it MORE difficult to work. Stating “it’s a great time to work” is NOT inclusive. 

Alternative phrasing: 

“There are opportunities for remote work available to help you continue your research while social distancing.” 

2. “I feel sorry for students doing virtual PhD defenses.”

It’s important to mourn lost experiences due to COVID19, but putting down the virtual space is not helpful. While virtual events are not the same as in-person, they still entail many benefits of social gathering.

Alternative phrasing: 

“Transitioning to virtual PhD defenses is understandably difficult for individuals who were looking forward to celebrating the occasion in person. Let’s make the most of the virtual space and support each other in all ways that we can!”

3. “I feel bad that I haven’t been more productive “

As researchers, we are conditioned to consistently think about productivity. Remind yourself that we are in a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. This is NOT normal. It is OK to not be productive.

Alternative phrasing: 

“Productivity has been difficult during COVID19. I’m striving to adapt my work habits while also showing kindness to myself for struggling.” 

HOW we say things matter and makes a HUGE difference to our mental health. I encourage everyone to remember your resilience and maintain a positive mindset to the best of your ability. These are tough times, but we WILL get through it. 

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

Comments

What Not To Say to Grad Students During a Pandemic – WOC Guest Post — 2 Comments

  1. This is a good piece. Useful stuff in general. But… “3. “I feel bad that I haven’t been more productive” also has a reverse and parallel negative: “I feel bad for being productive” or “I should not celebrate my productivity in light of everyone’s suffering at this time.”

    I’d like to add that things that should be celebrated — productivity, accomplishments — have also lost their luster. I am writing. And I should feel good about my accomplishments I’ve earned this semester. And I don’t. I feel like I’m not supposed to talk about them and I’m not supposed to brag about them. (I’d like to add that I am one of those dissertating and teaching grad students with a toddler at home.)

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