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Building Resiliency: COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effect on the Postdoctoral Community

Published on
September 21, 2021
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Celebrate National Postdoc Appreciation Week with this guest blog from the CHOP Postdoctoral Alliance.

Celebrate National Postdoc Appreciation Week with this guest blog from the CHOP Postdoctoral Alliance.

In this guest blog, the CHOP Postdoc Alliance (CPA) is celebrating National Postdoc Appreciation Week by showcasing the resiliency postdocs demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CPA asked current CHOP postdocs to highlight their struggles and ways they persevered in these unprecedented times.

Postdocs have many responsibilities in the lab and in their personal lives, often resulting in strained work-life balances. The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on society and on research has demanded resiliency, grit, and flexibility from postdocs across disciplines.

For fifth-year postdoc, Zila Martinez-Lozada, PhD, the biggest challenges during the pandemic were juggling her laboratory duties and role as a mother. Specifically, Dr. Martinez-Lozada had to learn how to balance research responsibilities without access to dependable daycare. She described feeling guilty about letting her daughter overindulge in television, a scenario that allowed Dr. Martinez-Lozada to work. She adapted by working while her daughter was napping or asleep for the night, and taking turns providing childcare with her husband, who has prioritized her career and is a great support.

Dr. Martinez-Lozada suspects that hiring freezes and similar issues related to the pandemic may make the job market even more competitive, which is especially concerning for her as she moves into the next chapter of her career. Nevertheless, her research and training continued to progress during the pandemic. She developed a new skill — analyzing large RNASeq datasets — which she hopes will give her a competitive edge in the job market.

First-year postdoc Ettya Fremont, PhD, said the pandemic upheaved her expectations of her first year as a postdoc. She described many difficulties she faced, ranging from moving to her partner’s parents’ house, not being able to see her aging parents for more than a year, and figuring out how to learn and work remotely.

She reflected that the challenges coalesced into a giant challenge of “figuring out how to do life with fewer emotional and occupational supports immediately available.” Dr. Fremont’s strategy to maintaining productivity: reducing the pressure to be 100 percent productive, 100 percent of the time. Another skill that helped was self-forgiveness.

“I learned to be easier on myself, to take pride in my accomplishments, to look back at a week, and no matter how much I had gotten done, to be proud of myself for doing what I could,” she said.

Finally, Dr. Fremont highlighted that her boss was “incredibly supportive” and hopes that the pandemic will encourage employers to continue arrangements for non-location critical employees to work from home or have hybrid work arrangements.

Throughout this pandemic, many others in the CHOP Postdoc Alliance community have dealt with unique hardships, many of which have resulted in greater resiliency and new ways to go about our professional and personal commitments. For more insights, read an in-depth account of seeking work-life balance from first-year postdoc Eric Wengert, PhD, that recently appeared in Science magazine.