Department life during the pandemic 2.0: Finding a new normal
Photo by Donn Young/UNC-CH College of Arts and Sciences
December 17, 2021 | By Alice Zhao, UNC-Chapel Hill Chemistry Communication
The COVID-19 pandemic redefined our definitions of “normal” and reshaped our daily routines. What we originally thought to be a two-week leave from campus in March of 2020, turned into barren halls, desolate classrooms and labs and physically distanced interactions. The news of the COVID-19 vaccines offered people around the world a glimmer of hope that “normal” is, in fact, within reach. The University’s strict protocols and implementation of the Carolina Together Testing Program brought reassurance as we ramped up our return to campus in the summer and fall semesters.
In the past year, the Carolina Chemistry community has been innovative in our navigation of life during the pandemic. Despite the multitude of obstacles and obstructions that seemingly remain, our students, faculty and staff are resilient. Our faculty continue to work with students to make the transition from the virtual classroom to the physical classroom. Our faculty recognize the mental and physical stress surrounding the transition and continue to work with students to develop strategies for success.
SWELL, Chemistry’s Student Wellness committee, continues to provide support to our graduate students and postdocs by actively connecting students with mental health and wellness resources.
Our Sustainability Committee has created a mask recycling program for our labs. Chemistry staff have been flexible and creative in implementing remote and on-campus support for students, postdocs and faculty. In the past year, the Department has continued to forge ahead by working together to implement and follow safety protocols.
It is without a doubt that we will come face-to-face with uncertainty in our return to normal. We remain optimistic as the updates to our safety measures have led to an increase in in-person collaborations in the lab, created opportunities for our faculty to reunite with their students and, for some of us, the ability to meet familiar and new faces in-person.
Read on to learn how our department members are finding their new normal in the return to campus, job searching during the pandemic, the transition back to the physical classroom and the ups and downs of remote work.
Tayliz Rodriguez, Co-president AM_WISE (Allies for Minorities and Women in Science) and Chair of GCPD (Graduate Committee for Professional Development)
Navigating the return to campus
As we continue to navigate the challenges of virtual programming, our organizations have leveraged connections and professional networks to execute our missions. AM_WISE, a student and postdoc advocacy organization in chemistry and physics, launched the Graduate Achievement through Mentorship (GrAM) program in August 2020. GrAM was designed to aid incoming students as they navigate graduate school through peer mentoring groups and additional resources. The Graduate Committee for Professional Development provides chemistry graduate students and postdocs with the resources they need to forge their careers. Recently, we led an industry seminar series, which connected top chemical companies with UNC graduate students!
Anna Curtis, Teaching Assistant Professor
Transitioning back to the physical classroom
This semester has been both exhilarating and exhausting. I was eager to see my students in person again but knew the transition back to in-person teaching would not be easy. My first day nerves were quickly dissipated by my students’ enthusiasm and energy. However, as the semester progressed, it was clear that students were not just learning chemistry: they were also relearning how to learn in person. With this extra content, the mid-semester slump came early. Nevertheless, I consistently saw more students in office hours than in previous semesters. It will take time for all of us to recover and approach “‘normal”’ but I believe we can do it together.
Kelsey Kean, Postdoctoral Scholar
Job searching during a global pandemic
For me, the pandemic meant continuing to carry out my research, teach in a hybrid format at North Carolina Central University, apply and interview for academic jobs in an unusual job market, and order lots of take out to support local businesses. As I finish up my time at UNC, I am excited to be able to collaborate with graduate studentsinthe Waters Lab and across Carolina Chemistry again. In January 2022, I will be moving down the road to join the faculty in the Department of Chemistry at High Point University in High Point, NC.
Laura Condie, Proposal Specialist
For the past 25 years, normal was face-to-face interactions, a view of The Bell Tower, the spontaneous fire alarms in Caudill and other Chemistry Labs and the hustle and bustle of being on campus. Since the pandemic, normal has become watching the seasons change through my home windows, daily/weekly zoom meetings with staff that have created more interactions than pre-pandemic, no fire alarms and no problem finding a parking spot! Despite the abnormality of this situation, it is something that I’ve become accustomed to, and who doesn’t like an occasional pajama day?