I remember when I first heard Dr. Fauci’s words. “So if we can get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated by let’s say the end of the second, the beginning of the third quarter,” he told CNBC in December 2020, “by the time we get into mid-fall of 2021, we can be approaching some level of normality.”

What a relief! But then the entirety of his words sank in: “some level of normality” was still over 10 months away.

We still don’t know the full impact that the Covid-19 pandemic will have on our world, much less on graduate education and the overall job market). But we do know the pandemic has already significantly altered our work as researchers and teachers and students.

Take, for example, the mentoring relationship between graduate students and graduate faculty. These relationships form the core of graduate education, and—in the past—have been characterized by frequent in-person meetings to discuss academic progress, current research, lab work, teaching strategies, the dissertation, and navigation of the daily academic world. For so many students, the pandemic has changed their relationships with faculty, making it more difficult for many students and faculty to connect.  Zoom has replaced the in-person visits, bringing with it as many technological challenges as advantages; escalated care-giving responsibilities have truncated the amount of quality time both faculty and students can give to regular meetings; shared research that once took place in the lab or the archives has been supplanted by exchanging notes through google docs.

In short, the time graduate students are able to spend with faculty has decreased at the same time that the need of graduate students for intentional mentoring has increased.  Joi-Lynn Mondisa, Assistant Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan, underscores that “during a time of unprecedented uncertainty amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, students need a higher level of support and guidance. As educators, we must identify how to mentor effectively in this current state.”

In other words, both graduate faculty must learn how to adapt our usual mentoring strategies to make sure the quality of graduate education remains high. I will be talking more about mentoring graduate students remotely soon, but for the time being the number one way faculty can help students cope with the challenging circumstances of the pandemic is to make and keep more frequent meetings and check-ins with their students. I often use a very easy (and effective) method to make sure my students do not get disconnected. I simply set a recurring appointment in my outlook calendar, reminding me to reach out and check on them.  Just doing this one thing insures that I do not lose contact with my students, which is especially critically right now; it also makes me more intentional about checking on their well-being and scheduling regular meetings with them.

In the same way that faculty must adapt our mentoring strategies, our graduate students also have to adapt their coping strategies. The pandemic has introduced so many different challenges into their academic lives. For the next few weeks, we are going to hear from several Baylor students as they share with us how the pandemic has challenged them in their research, teaching, and daily lives, as well as how they have coped with these challenges. We hope their reflections will encourage you.  Graduate education may look different than it did a year ago, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a rewarding experience.