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Exit Ticket: Nine Important Lessons from 2021

By Emily Vella

2021 was a year like no other, filled with many highs and many lows. Many of us worked from home and watched numerous significant events unfold around the globe. Climate change, civil unrest, fluctuating economy, elections, and workers strikes headlined newspapers around the world. And of course the ongoing pandemic continued to effect our lives. 2021 left us with a lot to reflect upon, as PhD students, researchers, expats, and individuals. I’d like to share with you some of the lessons I learned in the last year that I hope to bring with me into 2022.

1. Always be communitating

More importantly, always try to communicate effectively. Over phone/video chat or email we lose important information, like body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions. It can be easy to misinterpret not only the words and meaning, but also the attitude. I’ve learned that while it may be considered ‘unprofessional’ by some, including infrequent emojis in emails to those that know me well (ex. my supervisors, close colleagues, etc.) can be really helpful in conveying my attitude/tone of voice, which helps limit misunderstandings.

2. You don't work in a vacuum

During WFH and workplace social distancing, it became really easy to feel like I was working alone. I found that without the constant presence of colleagues, I felt like I had to do everything, even with a large amount of collaborative papers and assignments. The reality is that I could have been a better collaborator over the last year. 

3. Go with the flow

·       I’m the kind of person that loves lists and schedules and planning. I like to be prepared (sometimes over-prepared), to make a plan and stick to it. I like to know well in advance what work I’ll be doing and where I’ll be doing it. This past year was laced with uncertainty. I had to learn to be a lot more flexible and to adapt better to last minute changes. I still wouldn’t describe myself as a flexible person, but I’m much more so now than at the start of 2021. 

4. Work when you can

Most office cultures adhere to a 9-to-5 workday. This can be important if people are expected to be able to reach you during this time. But not everyone works well during this time. Some days, I sit at my desk for hours, plagued by writers block and a lack of inspiration. Other days, I wake up at four in the morning, fired up over solving a problem and work on it before I forget. My goal has been to work 40 hours a week, regardless of when those 40 hours happen. 
Street clock in Globe, Arizona, USA, Bernard Gagnon

5. Work-Life Balance

Pre-pandemic, it was really easy to separate work stuff and life stuff – I did my work stuff at the office (from 9-5), and life stuff at home. But when you don’t have that physical separation of space, the lines between them get blurred. I don’t think any student can claim that they’ve achieved the perfect work-life balance, but I like to think that WFH really forced me to make finding this balance a priority.

6. Resilience

During the last year, my bedroom became a shared home office for my partner and me. Depending on the day, there were up to four of us working from home, with a 6-year old in zoom school. At times, it felt chaotic and claustrophobic, but at the end of the day, I was still able to find ways to get work done.  

7. Go out while you can

I used to take simple pleasures for granted – visiting family, shopping for clothes, going to the movies, eating at a restaurant, hanging out with friends, etc. Many people learned to be grateful for these interactions and opportunities during the pandemic, as regulations fluctuated. At TerraNova, many of us encountered extra barriers as expats. All 14 of us PhD students moved to a new country at the start of our employments. Many of us couldn’t see our families and friend not only because of lockdown regulations, but because of travel and quarantine regulations. I learned to enjoy the time I have, to go out when I can and visit friends and family when I can, because you never know if it will be the last time in a long time.

8. Don't stop paying attention

The ever-changing covid regulations forced me to keep an eye on the news, something I never really did pre-pandemic. Because of this, I became a lot more aware of events that were happening around the world.

9. Be kind to yourself

You can’t be at your best everyday. Everyday isn’t going to be as productive as you’d like. Sometimes you’re going to miss deadlines – and that’s okay.
A painted rock at the Route 91 Memorial Rock Garden. The rock has a heart and says "love". Noah Wulf

1 Comment

  1. Sjoerd Kluiving

    Thanks for these exit qualifications Emily, you gave an important and personal evaluation of the 2021 pandemic year. Let’s hope to learn lessons for the upcoming year!

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