May 20, 2020 | Atlanta, GA
Stress is something that advisors, students, and postdocs have to deal with, even under the best circumstances. But, the change to Georgia Tech’s operations and the ramp-down of research in recent months has resulted in additional challenges when it comes to advisors and advisees trying to navigate their work.
“When campus closed, the focus was on transitioning to remote instruction,” said Bonnie Ferri, vice provost for Graduate Education and Faculty Development. “And as the semester progressed, we realized that students and postdocs doing research remotely had their own set of problems.”
In response, the Graduate Faculty Council, an advisory group made up of faculty created by the Office of Graduate Studies, decided to take action.
“We realized that while there are many resources on mentorship in research, we found very little on the topic of how to mentor those completing research remotely,” Ferri said. “So, we crowdsourced advice for both advisors and those they support, with particular focus on strategies to help with research productivity and well-being.”
Ferri and members of the Office of Graduate Studies and Office of Postdoctoral Services staff worked with members of the Graduate Student Government Association, other grad students, members of the Graduate Faculty Council, members of the Office of Student Life, and others to pull together a list of tips and resources to promote well-being and minimize negative impacts on both advisors and advisees.
Read on for their strategies and supports.
Tips for Advisors
- Prioritize quality communication with advisees. Video calls (or at minimum phone calls) allow for two-way communication, which is essential to maintaining the advisor-advisee relationship. Engage your advisees in a conversation about working at a distance and what they may need from you.
- Promote social interaction. Organize (or encourage students and postdocs to organize) social activities for research group members. If you have a small group, engage with other faculty to combine efforts and create social opportunities with other students and postdocs.
- Maintain a similar routine. Try to keep a similar schedule of meetings with your advisees. Don’t change your management stylen and move to more frequent updates or micromanagement. It might be tempting to cancel meetings because you can’t meet in person, but there are several high-quality video conferencing solutions that can nearly mimic in-person meetings. Set drop-in times (as if you were in your campus office), so students and postdocs can easily initiate contact via video if needed.
- Encourage positivity and temper expectations. Start conversations by making sure students and postdocs are healthy and well. They may be under a great deal of stress due to being directly impacted by COVID-19, so make sure they know you care about their personal well-being. Share your own stories about how the pandemic has affected you. Do you have pets? Your student or postdoc would probably love to virtually meet them. Productivity levels will likely decrease, and it’s not acceptable to expect the same level of performance from your students or postdocs when they are working remotely. Be flexible with deadlines when possible.
- Emphasize teamwork. You, your students, and your postdocs are in this together. Make sure they know that you are here to support them to the best of your ability even though these are very uncertain and difficult times. They should also commit to supporting you and their fellow researchers by attending research/proposal/defense presentations.
Resources for Advisors and Advisees
- NIH Resources
- Strategies and Tools for Dealing With Stress During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Laurie Chaikind McNulty, LCSW-C)
- Managing the Stress and Anxiety Around COVID-19 (Kelly Donahue, Ph.D.)
- Becoming A Resilient Scientist: Setting Reasonable Expectations and Healthy Boundaries for Ourselves and With Our Supervisors (Sharon Milgram, Ph.D., Director, NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education)
- Stress Management and Self-care for Scientists: During COVID-19 and Beyond (Michael Sheridan, Ph.D.)
- Supporting Yourself and Your Trainees During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Annie Scheiner, LCMFT, Wellness Advisor, NIH-OITE)
- Mutual Expectations of Advisors and Advisees
- If you are concerned about the well-being of a student, you can submit a referral to the Dean of Students.
Tips for Graduate Students and Postdocs
- Establish a routine for your work. Commit to working a consistent schedule, wake up at the same time every day, shower, and get ready as if you were going to the office. You may have family to support or other commitments, so your schedule may not be the same as it was when you were working on campus. Setting constraints on your work schedule will prevent you from overworking and burning out.
- Maintain a workspace to avoid distractions. When you are working, you should try to be in a space that you can be isolated from roommates, family, etc. If that’s not possible, make sure they know what your work schedule is and ask that you not be interrupted. Stay away from the refrigerator, streaming services, and other distractions that could adversely impact your health or performance.
- Stay active and social. Take a break during the day, and get some fresh air outside. Go for a walk, run, or do some other physical activity. Reach out to others in your research group to set up happy hours, coffee hours, or other social activities.
- Temper expectations of yourself. It’s not realistic to think that you will maintain previous levels of productivity. Your advisors know this. There are a number of tips out there for being successful during this time — virtual hangouts, exercise, eating well, meditating, learning new skills, etc. All of these won’t work for you. Use this time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Working remotely is a skill in and of itself, and figuring out how to navigate it successfully will be a very valuable skill moving forward.
- Reach out to campus resources. No one is going to be able to navigate this time alone. There are a number of campus resources that are still providing high-quality resources to students at a distance. They are just a phone call away and are here to help you if you need it (see below).
Resources for Postdocs
- All postdocs (including Affiliate Postdoctoral Scholars) have access to our Employee Assistance Program through Kepro. You can request confidential, no cost services at 844.243.4440. More details on the Health and Wellbeing website.
- Services continue to be offered virtually via Health Initiatives, the LGBTQIA Resource Center, VOICE, and the Women's Resource Center.
- Employee Services and Resources
- Employees can find information about COV19 testing and healthcare benefits and resources available to you through the USG Benefits programs.
- Tech COVID-19 Website