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April Monthly Highlight- COVID-19 Stories

April 24, 2020

April’s Monthly Highlight is part of an initiative to document how life has changed for the AOS department under COVID-19. We hope this article will aid future historians by describing how our lives have been disrupted during a pandemic.

If you wish to document your experiences in a similar way to the article presented below, the UW-Madison Archives are collecting personal statements from the UW Community.


How has my day-to-day life been interrupted?

Grant Petty: The most obvious change for me has been that my wife and I have been in strict isolation at home together for almost two-and-a-half weeks so far (since March 13), because I'm in a high-risk group and most definitely don't want to catch this nasty bug. Even our adult daughters don't come inside; they occasionally drop groceries off on our front porch, and we wave at each other through the window.

As regards work, being stuck at home has most seriously affected my involvement in Ankur's and my current field course, AOS 404, as I can no longer visit the weather stations that the students set up a few weeks ago on the shore of Lake Kegonsa, and I can't help with other logistical tasks either. In the meantime, of course, even students are largely in isolation as well, so we're all basically in the same boat. The weather stations and other instruments will simply have to continue to run unattended until someone can bravely head out there to dismantle them and bring them back to campus. This is not an ideal way to run what was intended to be a hands-on field course!

Dan Vimont: Navigating work schedules while home “schooling” three kids has become quite a challenge. I find it’s very easy for me to get distracted as minor crises (paints spilling across the floor, kids needing lunch, etc.) arise.

Patrick Beaty: My day-to-day life is quite literally so different. I don't have to commute an hour one-way on the bus everyday, which has proven to be the only upside to the switch to virtual learning. My fiancee and I start our morning with a walk around our neighborhood and then spend 8-ish hours doing classes, going to meetings, and filming instruction videos. We do manage to talk a lunch break together and watch an episode of the current show we are binging. After our work day, we do another walk around the neighborhood and move 5 feet from our "offices" (two worn down desks from our undergraduate days) to our couch in the same open room. It is often difficult to find a clear cut off between the end of our work day and the start of our free time in the evening as we are in the same room the entire time.

What changes have I made to continue with work/teaching/studying?

Grant Petty: Fortunately, I'm able to do most of my regular work from home. Teaching has been the main thing requiring adaptation. Since I have been a chalkboard kind of instructor for most of the 30 years of my career, I continue to expend quite a bit of effort converting my normally free-form, hand-waving lectures into canned Powerpoint presentations that I can narrate online to an audience that I usually can't see or hear. It's not ideal, but it's working well enough.

Dan Vimont: Online class is a bit of a challenge. I realize how important interaction with students is for assessing whether I can move on in lecture, or whether to devote more time to a particular subject.

I’m trying very hard to stick to a strict schedule that balances time in front of the computer with family time. We go for walks in the afternoon, or spend time playing games (away from work and other obligations). I think that’s super important for maintaining mental health through this, and it’s something I talk about with my students.

Elizabeth Maroon: I am now a master of all forms of video meeting: Blackboard, Skype, Google Hangouts, Webex, Zoom, and more to come I’m sure.

David Mikolajczyk: I've been fortunate enough to have a solid home with internet, food, and financial security. This has made this social distancing/Stay-At-Home period a fairly smooth transition for me. I am taking two courses this semester, and I think both have been very successful in moving to online-only teaching.

What has stayed the same? What do I miss about my normal routine?

Grant Pretty: Except for the instructional aspect, many things haven't changed substantially. With just a few exceptions, I still have the same things on my plate as before, and I've always been able to do most of these things from almost anywhere.

Dan Vimont: My work is largely the same (with the exception of how classes are delivered). One thing I DON’T miss are the number of meetings I have to go to… I’m finally able to sit down and do some new research!

What do I miss most about being physically present in the AOSS building?

Grant Petty: I do have both research and instructional projects that are instrumentation related and can only be done in the building using bench equipment and tools. I was very much looking forward to making some progress with those projects this Spring semester. Now they are on hold for the indefinite future, since I can't even go into the building.

Additionally, I miss the day-to-day human interaction that comes with working in a building full of interesting and talented people -- students, staff, and faculty. There is really no acceptable substitute for that right now.

Dan Vimont: I really miss the day-to-day interaction with students and other faculty at AOS. We have a very vibrant community in our building, and we care a lot about each other. It’s hard to be away from that. It’s hard for me to think about the experience this will be for the graduating seniors as well. All of our senior classes are close, and we all develop some strong friendships coming through this program. All of us faculty are aware of how important it is to celebrate each of our classes, and we’ll try to make the end of the year meaningful for everyone!

I also miss my second office at Indie Coffee, where students know they can find me most mornings!

Elizabeth Maroon: What do I miss most? Interacting with everyone in the building regularly. What do I miss second-most? The Taiwan Little Eats and El Wiscorican food trucks.

David Mikolajczyk: I do miss going to the AOSS building, both for work and school. I enjoyed my routine of going to work and coming home every day, seeing coworkers and classmates in the building, and getting a midday Greenbush donut and an Indie coffee. I've also come to appreciate how much space I have in my office and how comfortable my office chair is. I don't have quite as nice a setup at home.

Patrick Beaty: I miss face-to-face collaboration and seeing everyone from the AOS department daily. Even with good tools like Blackboard Collaborate, it is hard to communicate in a way that makes sense through a video screen. It was so nice to be able to walk into different offices rather than send an email and wait for a response.

Overall, I am very much looking forward to returning to normal life at the AOSS building. I will never, ever complain about my long bus rides again!

Is there anything that has changed for the better?

Grant Petty: If there's a silver lining, it's that random distractions during the day are far fewer. I can focus on my to-do list with fewer interruptions. In theory, that should make me more productive. However, the cloud of worry that hangs over all of us as the pandemic takes hold in the U.S. offsets that advantage to a surprising degree.

Dan Vimont: We’re dedicating specific times of the day for family time, which has been wonderful. We make sure to have dinner together (which we always try to do, but as kids get older, schedules get complicated), followed by a family game or TV-show / movie, which is a fantastic way to end the day. It’s going to be important to maintain these kind of traditions when we come out of this!

Elizabeth Maroon: With so many events cancelled, I’ve been able to better budget my time and I’m getting back in shape again. I’ve also caught up with friends, family, and colleagues around the world.