The Keister lab, helmed by the creative and energetic Julie Keister, has been staying connected despite working from home. They kindly shared some of their strategies and experiences:
How has your lab adapted to working at home?
I think my lab group has adapted really well to working from home, though we each have our own challenges! Some of the challenges come and go - like the feeling that we shouldn't have to work so hard from the place we usually associate with rest and relaxation. I think we've all moved past that one by now. Some are persistent, like my "extremely mediocre" internet service. Yoga helps me let go of that frustration...Oooohm maaani paadmay hummmm.... Several of my group have roommates and small spaces to work in that look terribly un-ergonomic. (Yoga helps with that too!) We all moved as much of our offices home as we could - computers, big monitors, chairs - and purchased what else would help, but there's only so much you can do in a small space.
We had a few struggles to identify what everyone could productively work on from home early on, but with a little help from the department, we've figured it out for everyone. I think the biggest challenge has probably been for the graduate students whose research was suddenly put on indefinite hold, and the worry that we won't get back to normal in time to complete their lab and field work this summer. So far, their great attitude and ability to adapt has been fantastic, but it is stressful. It helps that there is a large community of people all in the same situation, and our funding programs have given us amazing flexibility to delay or re-scope projects that just can't go on as planned.
What kind of systems do you have in place in the lab to keep people connected and safe?
Because my group includes several technicians in addition to graduate and undergraduate students, pre-pandemic, I used to have more one-on-one or small group meetings than full lab group meetings. We changed that immediately when we started isolating. I still have small meetings that focus on research, but we also started daily 9 am Zoom meetings to check
in, say hi, here's what I have been working on, here's my plan for the day, and here are my accomplishments and challenges. Sometimes I share photos of my blooming garden. Sometimes we hear what Amanda and her roommates cooked for dinner, or what someone did to chill out over the weekend. Since we can't drop by each other's offices or catch up in the lunchroom, these meetings have been key to staying connected. They also help me keep my schedule from creeping later and later each day!
Favorite quarantine activity?
Gardening! Thank goodness the pandemic hit just before spring rather than just before winter! I don't have much of a vegetable garden (I live in the woods) but my "yard" of shrubs, trees, and flowers keep me happy. When I want to detach from email, I move out to a chair on the porch to work. As I write this, I am watching a pair of ground-nesting birds take worms to their babies. I've also had fun trying several of the virtual fitness programs the UW has developed - they help me vary my workouts and have the added benefit of burning off some of my husband's luscious cooking. Eating well is definitely my second favorite quarantine activity!
For the last several weeks, our lab has been meeting for daily update zoom calls at 9 am. We go around the "room" and share our accomplishments and struggles from the previous day and our plans for the day ahead. For me, these calls have been really helpful in providing a concrete start time for my work day and keeping me on task. It's so nice to see some friendly faces first thing in the morning, catch glimpses of pets in the background, and learn about the progress of people's gardens or what projects they've been working on. Everyone has been super supportive and encouraging. Hearing others express similar challenges to what I've been experiencing makes everything feel a little less lonely. Even with spotty internet and technical difficulties, we've still managed to cultivate a good sense of community!
Since we can't work in the lab at the moment, we've been looking ahead at reports that are due this year that we would normally be holding off on until we've finished processing all of the zooplankton samples. Luckily, we had just finished a big set of samples in the lab, so I've been able to work on analyzing data for presentations and reports. We were actually getting ready for a workshop that was supposed to be about a month ago, where we present our 2019 zooplankton data for the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project (SSMSP). They ended up changing it to a day-long zoom meeting with brief presentations, which was a fun change of scenery for working from home. It was great to see everyone, and 80+ people showed up!
Working from home has been an adjustment for me, as I imagine it has been for most people who aren't used to doing it all of the time. There are new distractions here (housemates, readily available snacks, and the more frequently sunny backyard), but I'm getting used to it and have found some comfortable work spaces. I brought home my keyboard, monitor, and mouse from my office, so that has been helpful. I make sure to get up and take breaks and move around since my work is now 100% at the computer. My neighborhood has been beautiful with all of the spring blooms, so it's been a great place to take walks.
Some things that have been keeping the Keister lab happy at home: arts, books, baking, pets, exercise, and a worm farm!
Communicating with lab groups during social distancing
-By LuAnne Thompson with input from Randie Bundy and Rick Rupan
Many of us are struggling to remain productive. I find that I wander the house, bug my husband, and then go out and pull weeds when I should be writing a review or working on a paper. I think I am trying to recreate how I wandered the building when I needed a break, connecting with students or gossiping with other faculty. And I miss the view from the third floor deck. I also realize that I have a responsibility to lead as a supervisor and advisor, and as a senior member of the faculty. But there is so much that I don’t know, and along with everyone else, I am struggling to remain productive during this time of separation. I do know that it is important that everyone that I work with knows that I am thinking about them and I care about how they are doing, whether it is students that I interact with on their committees, an undergraduate who had taken an incomplete last quarter, or staff who keep the department and our computers running.
I know that I need to prioritize keeping the lines of communication with my research group during this time of uncertainty. Because of the stress of the situation, I want to reassure people about the state of research funding for our collective work, and at same time, I do not expect them to be as productive now, and that I support them while they struggle to stay engaged in research while taking online classes, caring for others, and managing isolation and anxiety. Since I can’t pop into offices, I realize that it is important to connect digitally, and the easiest way to do that is to have both weekly and individual meetings. But other points of connection happen in other ways: I have an ongoing e-mail exchange with one of the administrative staff where I give updates on how my weeding of our rockery is going, and I get to hear about her pressure washing adventures.
After discussing these issues with the diversity committee, we decided we could provide some guidelines or examples for supervisors who are struggling to figure out the best way to communicate with their staff, students, and postdocs during this uncertain time. We agreed that a good practice would be for anyone in a supervisory role to contact their subordinates directly at least once a week and update them with any information that they have, even if there are no updates. I know people are nervous about funding and they are also lonely. Rick Keil’s weekly e-mails help, but continuous communication with those in our research groups, as well as school wide staff, is important in that it allows all of us to feel connected and reminds us that we are all still part of a community.
I present below my strategy for how I stay engaged with people in the oceanography, and give some other examples from our community of ways to keep research groups connected and supported.
Thompson Group Meeting
The Thompson group meeting meets weekly for one hour. The members of the group are self-selecting, they include two students that are currently working with me, an incoming student working remotely, several postdocs that are not directly being paid by LuAnne (including a visitor from Princeton/GFDL, a post-doc in atmospheric sciences, and post-doc from another group), and a scientist from APL. A staff member that supports the computational environment in physical oceanography also attends, as do several students who work with other faculty. While this creates some inconsistency in attendance, we do have a critical mass such that there is always something new to talk about.
So far this quarter, we have had the following discussions, led by a different person each week:
- A discussion of recent review papers that is widely relevant to most of us
- Presentation of an Ocean Sciences talk that many missed
- Review of the physics of mesoscale dynamics and parameterizations
Upcoming topics include
- A 15 minute talk and sharing of figures that show recent research results by anyone who wants to.
- A concert! By talented School of Oceanography folks
Other models for creating connections in groups that have more shared activities and more staff involvement can be accomplished using a daily SCRUM meeting (idea courtesy of Meghan Cronin, School of Oceanography Affiliate Professor at NOAA/PMEL, see also https://www.ntaskmanager.com/blog/scrum-meetings/). This is a 15 minute meeting that occurs at the same time every day that is task oriented. The following questions are answered by each person in the group:
- What did you accomplish yesterday?
- What are you working on today?
- Are there any impediments in your way?
This format allows people to help each other on bottle necks in analysis etc. and follow up discussions can be scheduled.
Bundy Group Meeting and Lab Group Communication
The Bundy lab follows a similar structure as the Thompson group meetings, in that we meet every week for about an hour, and every other week someone from the lab presents on what they have been working on. This can be paper revisions, figures they have been working on, etc. The alternate weeks we have a lab social hour during the lab meeting time.
In addition to our lab meetings, we communicate as a group regularly through our lab Slack channel. We have a channel now on what we are all doing for our mental health, and it includes posts from everyone in the lab on topics ranging from baking, memes, yoga, exercise, to outdoor activities.
Some additional resources for leading through crisis:
How is the team communicating while not in the lab and how are we staying positive?
While social distancing is crucially important from a public health perspective, it can be really isolating to just work from home. Our lab uses a regular morning zoom meeting to make sure everyone feels connected and has at least one social moment that day. This meeting is also a good way to celebrate progress. We meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:40am. We are only supposed to meet for 15 minutes but the discussion often lasts about 30 minutes. The questions we each answer are: (1) Is everyone OK? (2) What special thing are you looking forward to today? For example, what meal are you planning or what game will you play virtually with friends? (3) What is something that you are proud of having accomplished yesterday? (4) What is one tangible goal that you will finish today?
Even with social distancing we are still a community!
Today the Keil lab held our lab meeting over Zoom. We're a close knit group, so it's been hard being apart for so long. It was great to check in and talk about how we're all doing. We're all healthy and hanging in, baking and going on walks to keep our spirits up while we finish up finals, download new software, and find creative ways to connect to the internet.
How are we: staying productive?
Megan has the most creative office set up. Living in a tiny house on the Olympic Peninsula without wifi, she has to be creative. Usually when working from home she can go to the local library, but now it's closed so she has to access the wifi from her parked truck. Go Megan!
How are we: finding balance?
To stay grounded, the Keil lab has been baking and going on walks. Rick has been baking pretzels (check out the pretzel baking challenge!) and Anna has been going for long walks.
When he's not in the lab, Garret runs a commercial diving business. He's been hard at work rebuilding a surface supply commercial diving breathing air compressor.
But what about the Pokemon??
Pokemon go is a very important part of the Keil lab's culture. Jaqui got all of us into it over the summer, and we are now all pro Pokemon trainers. Team Blue trainers like Anna have been working from home, so Team Red trainers like Khadijah have captured our home gym, Abyssal Storm! Stay tuned to find out if Team Blue will ever recapture it or if Abyssal Storm will be lost to Team Red forever.
TV and Movie Reccomendations:
A lab favorite is the Netflix original sketch show I Think You Should Leave. Never does a lab meeting go by without one of us quoting the always funny Tim Robinson.
Emmet reccomends She-Ra and the Princess of Power, a feminist animated adventure show.