Social-Distancing Update from a Masters' and PhD student's living room

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The home office has now reached pretty much everyone where it is possible — some faster and „easier“ than others. Most of the students and many of my colleagues simply had to go to the university library quickly and hope that the bag they were allowed to carry out on the last open day contained all the relevant books they needed for their term papers, dissertations or seminar preparations and that no one else had gotten to them first. So that was a piece of cake!

But the deadlines have been extended …

After the University Library in Heidelberg closed on 17.03., all deadlines for term papers in our faculty were directly extended from 31.03. to mid-May and those for theses by two months. So now students are sitting at home, knowing that they have to hand in a term paper in two months and have about 3/4 of all books on their desks. And now? Anyone who knows how to write a paper knows that this is the worst situation you could be in right now. You’ve done part of the work, got half of the information together, but haven’t started writing yet — and probably won’t do so for the next month. That means the work drags on and on until you have to start all over again at the beginning of May.

But there are enough articles etc. online …

and that’s enough to write a thesis? As a historian, I am very happy that many of my sources have now been digitized or that I can at least temporarily switch to this part of the sources. I have also noticed that efforts are being made from many sides to make even more sources and archives digitally accessible and to create overviews of the topics that can be worked on for theses — great initiative! But not everyone has it so easy: Many cannot simply change their topic quickly two months before submission. Others have to: a friend in ethnology actually wanted to go on field research in March. Now he has no data — without it, even a two-month extension of the deadline is useless. And what do his advisors do? Nobody knows, but they certainly do not reply to e-mails.

We at the university are used to barricading ourselves in our little room and only seeing daylight again after typing the full stop on page 25. So basically nothing changes …

Clearly, reading and writing can also be done from home, and in the final stages of the work many of us have no contact with the outside world. But that was not healthy before Corona, nor is it healthy now. It is not for nothing that the most frequented places in libraries and university cafeterias are those where coffee is available — not only, who would have thought it, because there is coffee (!), but because you could clear your head for 20 minutes and talk to other people. No wonder that students like living in shared flats so much. My guess is that most of them would otherwise not survive at all due to a lack of human contact. For example, we distinguish three phases of writing for a friend based on her face colour: red, white and green.

Red: The beginning of the work. She is just getting into the subject, is enthusiastic and committed, brings everything together, talks cheerfully with everyone about it.

White: She withdraws to her room. The only messages you get from her are questions about whether you have time for dinner. At least that’s something. You can see, however, that without us meeting her, she would probably have skipped dinner — as her white face shows.

Green: The legendary last phase. Nobody has experienced it yet, there are only rumours made by the flatmates. Short-term signs of life through walks to the refrigerator. Communication is only possible under certain circumstances, but try talking about her work only at your own risk.

To prevent that this doesn’t happen to all of us in the home office, tip no. 1 of every post and tweet that comes in at these times is to have contact with the outside world! Take online coffee breaks, have your colleague in a video chat next on your desk, etc. etc.

Finally time to increase productivity!

Of course, it makes sense not to watch Netflix all day long in your pajamas and try to get as much work done as you would in non-corona everyday life. But many people — and I don’t want to take myself out of this — are already looking forward to the time that will allow them to finally work off all the work that has been left behind. More productivity — „catching up“ — is what home office in academia means to us, especially as scholars in the humanities and cultural studies.

But I can’t criticize it better than this tweed here:

Because that’s exactly what the work in science does to us: We believe it is „normal“ to constantly have the feeling to be „behind“ the work, to have to do „more“ — even in times of Corona.

So that we don’t become worcoronaholics…

  • Maybe just netflix for a day — or two — in your pyjamas or read a book. Bulletjournalling is just about allowed!
  • As far as possible: keep moving. The stiff academic body will be happy about it!
  • Rather tackle other leftover work, like clearing out, sorting books or maybe even revising the nasty, annoying literature list.
  • Put on coffee, call friends, video-coffee-meeting, let’s go!

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