The global pandemic of COVID-19 changed the work and social life of our institute from one day to the other, like almost every else’s one in the world. Since 21 March, the TU Dresden operates in emergency mode. Only a limited number of staff is allowed to be at the offices. Everyone else works from home. Face-to-face teaching is suspended for the whole summer semester. Only very selected teaching events that require students to attend can slowly take place from May on. What at first, we tough was unimaginable, is now part of our daily lives.
Even though before COVID-19 most of our work was done on a desk and was digital, except face-to-face teaching sessions, staff meetings, excursions and the coffee breaks. These activities were giving our working days a friendly environment that we already had incorporated in our routines. This stopped with the TUD’s emergency mode and the city measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. This situation is being particularly tough for our students from the Tropical Forestry MSc course, as they have no personal interaction in a classroom and are far away from their families and friends which also worries them. Since the measures are different in each country and this uncertainty does not let them know when the next visit will be. The second batch students are specially confused and disappointed. Usually, they are starting their fieldwork on March, which means that they are travelling abroad to gain research experiences. As this is now interrupted, students have to deal with incomplete data sets or the shift to completely new research topics for a theoretical study.
Each of us is surely living different experiences, even though we are living in the same situation. For example, Gabriela Huidobro, a new staff member at our institute and former student of the Tropical Forestry Master, who is supporting with social media, writing tutorials and other organizational activities at the institute. A week after starting her work activities in Tharandt’s office, she had to start working in “home-office-mode”. Although she is familiar with the activities of the institute, she tells us that it is a challenge to work, since to have self-discipline is not often easy at home and many times it is easier to have explanations about the tasks that need to be developed face-to-face. However, for her, the weekly online meetings with the Institute’s staff have been useful and she has had even discovered digital work tools that make things more bearable, such as dashboards for updating activities, timers for tasks and the now called “Zoominars”. Anyway, it’s about adapting, and we can be amazed at how creative we can become.
At these times, communication and coordination seem to be more important than ever for information, consultation as well as motivation and moral support for students and among the staff. It is a challenging situation, that calls for our discipline, flexibility, creativity and communication skills. But it also reveals the potentials to improve and modernize our work and teaching habits and environment, as it pushes us towards digital communication and learning concepts. Our institute’s work and communication changed tremendously, and we are learning and improving every day and every week through:
- Weekly virtual work meetings of the whole team and in small working groups
- Weekly virtual PhD and Postdoc meeting for consultation and socializing
- Video/digital phone calls with MSc students for supervision and consultation
- Virtual phone calls with national and international partners
- E-learning components of live webinars, recorded lectures, online discussions and exercises
- Online student theses defenses
- Online-tools for organizing and coordinating work
All these developments also imply learning effects with gaining new knowledge and experiences that will be partially very useful when we return to our offices and back to the “normal” times.
Besides these direct effects that we are experiencing right now, there are of course also concerns and consequences that are not predictable at this moment, due to the concerns of the COVID-19 development worldwide. How are we going on with research projects in international collaborations and project sites in tropical countries? How we can ensure a smooth start of the upcoming university year for our new international students?
Despite these times of uncertainty, we have to keep on going with our work, support each other and search the positives sides of the situation and adapt. Let’s detect and use the potentials of this situation!
We wish all our staff, students, alumni, partners as well as everyone all over the world health and optimism to withstand this situation of a global pandemic. Let’s keep in contact and moving forward!
By Gabriela Huidobro and Maxi Domke