When I think back to the time when news of the shelter-in-place order/restriction came out in March 2020, all I can think of was uncertainty. Everything was uncertain – travel, finances, research, everything. My advisor helped me transitioned my work online, but even after being able to do so, it was very challenging to have the right headspace to work without thinking about a pandemic taking its toll on the world.
The biggest motivation for me to come to the US and pursue a PhD was to have a better future, a better career. With COVID-19’s sudden and unexpected effect on the economy, thinking of a “normal” future was difficult. Well, how could you, when you see people emptying grocery stores all of a sudden? Realistically, this pandemic might set back all our careers by a year or so, compared to a world without a pandemic. As a graduate student, being able to present your work to a wide audience and having conversations about your research is an important part of the grad school experience. With COVID-19, most conferences went online and with time zones being a big problem, conversations that often lead to job opportunities became quite challenging.
Staying at home and working blurred the line between work and leisure, and I was burnt out within a few months of working from home. I think something that helped me during that time was working with a group using zoom for a fixed amount of time. One such group that Baylor helped me be a part of, was the writing group for students that helped me share and pursue my goals with the group.
Covid-19 didn’t just affect my research; there were personal challenges as well. As an international student you always worry about your visa status, and during the first few months for COVID-19, there was a lot of confusion on whether we would be allowed to stay in the US or asked to leave the country. I am thankful for my department, graduate school and my advisor for being a great help in navigating the changes in the rules during that time.
News and social media were also having a huge effect on me, especially during the first few months of the pandemic. Realizing the negative impact it had on me, I limited my social media/news consumption and restricted them to some fixed time in the day. Shutting out all the noise helped me a great deal. Instead of being constantly anxious of the future, I decided to accept my circumstances as the new normal and started to focus on things I could control. Also, with social media out of the picture, I had time to level up my “below average” cooking skills, and now I am a “proud” average cook.
Finally, working for the Graduate Student Association turned out to be a very constructive experience for me, as it gave me an opportunity to help people that try to improve student’s experience on and off-campus.
I am thankful to Baylor for how they maneuvered around each challenge and made an on-campus student experience possible.
Joseph Thangraj hails from one of the busiest cities in India, Mumbai. He is pursuing a PhD in Geophysics in the Geology Department at Baylor.