I’ve been spending a fair amount of time on social media recently – as, I think, have we all – and I’ve noticed a lot of family-oriented posts from my colleagues with family. Which makes sense: family is important.

But I’m also thinking about how family is going to make a difference in what everyone can produce right now.

I’m a disaster scientist: this means that not only am I expected to do the general academic productivity thing, but that right now, while we’re all in quarantine, might be one of the defining moments of the careers of every cohort with me in the Disaster Research Center. The ability to engage with research right now is going to be massively important. But it’s going to vary, for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with dedication or interest.

So first, a preview of the way my life is regularly organized, with the help of my roommates and adviser:

  • I live with several people. Sometimes this bugs me, because I’m an only child and apparently that never goes away, but it means that my bills are low because they’re shared.
  • I have an involved adviser, which makes everything about my academic career more straightforward and less nervewracking
  • I have guaranteed funding
  • My adviser is mostly retired, and my funding comes from an outside grant: office politics are utterly irrelevant to my life if I want them to be
  • I live about a mile from campus, near a shuttle route: commuting under regular circumstances is a non-issue
    • Not just that, Tristan drops me off in the mornings
  • Tristan does the laundry. All of it. Every Sunday they’re in town. It’s predictable and I don’t have to think about it ever.
  • Alexis does most of the grocery shopping
  • Alexis also does most of the cooking
  • Tristan and Alexis are both brilliant and writers and willing to read my essays and give feedback really quickly
  • Duncan keeps the kitchen clean and cleans the living room once a week
  • The cats and bearded dragons technically belong to the Carrs, so they do all the animal care except when I refill their water fountain

I’m not saying this to brag, though I know it can come off that way: my life is pretty much optimally structured for me to do well academically. That’s on purpose! My brain is sometimes extremely terrible (for which I have medication and a full spectrum light), and so for times I have to fight my brain, not having to fight my environment really helps. The tremendous people in my life have entered into a conspiracy of ease.

This means that, during regular times, I’m moderately productive and definitely overinvolved.

During this period of isolation? All of that list is going to matter more. Additionally:

  • We have a number of computers such that everyone has their own, even with my current technology adventures
  • There are no children in the house. Children are important, and they’re quite literally the future, but no one has to care for them or look after their health or educate them while school is shut down. This is the biggest gap people have been talking about, that I’ve seen, and no one in this house is engaged in the work and noise of helping the development of a whole person.
  • Tristan is working the regular amount, because data centers are essential services.
  • Nick is working more than usual, because Target’s flex crew does online orders. Apparently he’s getting hazard pay and unlimited overtime. So this, too, means both quiet and work orientation in everyone’s attitude.
  • My contract continues to pay me.
  • I’ve worked from home before. For years. I’m used to the scheduling and the changes in mindset and the ways I need to orient myself.
  • My family is all fairly far away and mostly either taken care of or not in a circumstance I can help with anyway.

I spent about 8 hours yesterday coding data for my new Covid-19 related side project. Tristan hung out in my room and wrote and we listened to a podcast, then Tristan helped with preliminary sorting of some of the data when I clutched my face and screamed at the realization that after starting the day at 235 emails and processing 50 or so to end up at 232 emails (I appreciate all the data people are sending me, I just also am slightly overwhelmed).

I know this data, and some of the other stuff I’m working on, are probably going to lead to publications. But I’m also intensely aware of just how much privilege and deliberate ordering of my life and assistance from other people have gone into my ability to be productive. And I firmly believe that people caring for children or family members right now and people dealing with financial or environmental uncertainties due to the various shutdowns shouldn’t face any kind of career slowdown because their circumstances are different and they had other things to do than write. But I don’t know how well the academy will accommodate this.

I hope it does it well. A conspiracy of ease should not be a requirement of academia in general.

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