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a little bit of covid gratitude

No one can dispute that adjusting to the changes brought about by the coronavirus epidemic has been tough. Change is generally one of those things that us humans don't enjoy that much. However, whenever things are tough, I like to think about the positives. So, in the spirit of gratitude, I am sharing four positives to come out of COVID-19 for me.

connection to colleagues

I study remotely. As such, I’ve only met a handful of my colleagues in person on a couple of occasions. Since COVID-19 the daily Centre of Research Excellence lunch catch-ups happen via zoom, the weekly Insitute for Culture and Society seminar series happen via zoom and the fortnightly Higher Degree Research (HDR) student catch-ups happen via zoom. BAM! Suddenly I don't feel like I am missing out or creating work for someone by requesting to zoom into a meeting or seminar. I know most of the HDR students at the Institute now and we've been sharing resources and encouragement. While it's not the same as those relationships people have built over time by working in the same building together, it feels great to build new connections.  

professional development, resources, networks

Western Sydney University offers a fantastic array of support for HDR students, including facilitated thesis writing groups conducted via zoom. However, not unlike many universities, up until recently many HDR workshops were in-person attendance only.....but now, it's zoom for everyone! Over the past couple of months, I’ve attended workshops on career development, thesis examination, writing, and data management.

The other fantastic thing about the pandemic is the outpouring of generosity and collegiality amongst the academic community. New (and existing) resources and networks have surfaced to create spaces for support, connection and sharing. Some I've sampled include the crowdsourced google document on doing research in a pandemic from Deborah Lupton, the twitter handle @virtualnotviral and hashtag #virtualnotviral, Helen Sword's YouTube channel, webinars from QSR International and Academic Consulting, along with the abundance of support and wise words shared via my favourite blogs, Thesis Whisperer, Patter, and DoctoralWriting SIG.

living in the present

Time has shifted in weird ways for everyone. There are gaps of time opening up (due to less commuting time or less paid work) and closing simultaneously (due to increased caring responsibilities or homeschooling). I've always been conscientious about my time, planning a weekly schedule and keeping track of time spent on various tasks. The weekly schedule under COVID-19 conditions is quite different though. I still allocate times to certain things, for example, early morning is exercise, 8 - 11 am is homeschooling, but for me, it's about recognising that I can't do it all. I can't spend the same amount of time per week on my research project and support my children the way they deserve. It's about being selective and prioritising. Just as our pre-COVID-19 lives were temporary, this is also temporary. We only have the present, so I’m going to seize the opportunities it brings. If that means reading and snuggling with my little one for an extra 15 minutes, that’s what I am going to do. 

new skills

For some time, in the early stages of the pandemic, I was a little paralysed by the productivity narrative that was circulating widely. Everyone would have received some version or another, "you'll have so much time for writing" (rife in the academic world), 'now is the time for creativity/taking time for self/learning new hobbies'. It all seemed a bit unreal and farfetched as I struggled to adjust to the impacts the restrictions had on my routine. As much as I tried to ignore the pressure, I felt it.

Now though, when I reflect on the past two months we've spent under pandemic restrictions, I notice the following. I'm way more proficient with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard Collaborate and yes, while that's pretty boring (well to me at least) its a new experience and skill I can use in the future. I've also learnt some new neat tricks and software uses for studying on my iPad (while my son uses my laptop for school) and become quicker at creating snazzy ppt slides and editing videos for the little bit of casual work I still do. The coolest of all are those nice little self-care things, I've been practising yoga more often, my box of stitching gets picked up far more regularly, and finally, that shared journal I'd intended to start with my daughter has been moving frequently between us.

It's not all bad; it never is ... what's that saying about the silver lining?

a note on gratitude

The paper by Wood and colleagues cited below was the first to put forward gratitude as a habit of focussing on and appreciating positive aspects. He and his colleagues reviewed the existing body of work on gratitude and wellbeing. They concluded that gratitude is strongly related to wellbeing (all definitions), suggested that the relationship is likely causal and detailed a future research agenda which has been taken up by many scholars in recent years. The evidence holds across more recent publications too, gratitude is good for us. 

Wood, A., Froh, J., & Geraghty, A. (2010) Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

Contemporary media have picked up on the academic work on gratitude over the past two decades, and encouragement to be practice gratitude is everywhere. One of my favourite ways to incorporate gratitude into my daily life is using the Five Minute Journal app. It’s 5 minutes, twice a day, three things you are grateful for and why. Too easy!