Michelle Cicerano, Associate Director of Faculty Services
On March 2, 2020, a curveball was thrown into my life when my elderly father fell at home in Los Angeles and suffered a traumatic brain injury. While he was in the ICU with a 20% chance of survival, the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the US and turned the world upside down for everyone.
2020 has presented some emotional challenges for all of us. How have I been staying sane and productive during these unprecedented times?
I have found that it’s important for me to try to stick with the same routine I had when going into the office (minus the commute). I wake up early, usually with 1-3 cats surrounding me, make coffee, and give the cats their treats/meds + food. The cats keep me grounded to a schedule, particularly because this treat ritual has to happen on a 12-hour cycle for the 2 furbabies who are on medication. I will then head down to my basement gym to do a workout, while listening to a rotation of podcasts including The Daily, Pod Save the People (both referrals from Veronica Chudik), This Week in Health from Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health, and Hidden Brain. After breakfast and getting ready for work, I grab my coffee or green tea and head into my office and sign on to start my work day.
Zoom meetings devour most of my day now (our new normal!), and I genuinely enjoy checking in with members of my lab admin team and other colleagues, and seeing people’s faces. I also host lab admin forums now on a weekly basis, and we have had some informative sessions as well as social time. While part of me appreciates the ability to be productive and do focus work in mostly uninterrupted quiet, I do truly miss being in the office and having the random pop-in meeting with Frank Costanzo, Jack Conlin, faculty members, or Camila Ossa stopping in to say “there’s food in the kitchen!” And while I don’t miss sitting in rush hour traffic, I do miss commuting with my carpool buddy, Nancy Hegarty. At the end of my day now when I sign off from work, that’s when the family time usually starts and I will call over to my parents’ house (3 hours behind) and get the daily update on how my dad is doing and how I can help from here.
My dad is now at home and doing extremely well with his recovery. He’s a fighter and an inspiration, and we are tremendously grateful to have him back. I’ve been back and forth to LA twice to help out. Traveling during the pandemic has been surreal and stressful – but also much easier than ever. Airports are empty, planes are half empty, no lines at TSA! But they don’t take your temperature before they let you on the plane and up until this week, airlines didn’t require masks. And these cross-country flights are 5-6 hours, which is a long time to be wearing a mask and counting down the hours until you can breathe fresh air again.
Another emotional challenge I’ve had to grapple with is the fact that my husband Mark is in public 5 days a week for work, because he’s a butcher and essential worker. While some aspects of this are certainly a privilege, knowing he could be exposed to COVID-19 any day brings a low-key anxiety that I’ve had to learn to manage with mindfulness techniques. I’m not always successful, but I strive to focus on the present moment whenever the anxiety begins to take over. I can’t change the past and I can’t control the future – especially now – so I try to focus my energy on the now and on gratitude. The cats are extraordinarily helpful role models for this! Cats (and dogs) are Zen Masters by nature and live always in the present, and focusing my attention on their purring and feeling the softness of their fur helps bring me back to center. Our little gurus are all rescues: littermates Daphne and Dewey (age 12), sweet Freya (11), and blue-eyed, part-Siamese Odin (10).
Another thing I’m super grateful for: even though Mark and I both cook, he’s professionally trained and happy to take the lead on meals. Needless to say, I don’t miss restaurants! But the best meals are those we cook together, because our strengths in the kitchen balance each other out well – such as the slow roasted duck empanadas we made last week. I’ve been making empanadas a lot more lately, since I discovered that I can use my tortilla press to form the dough rounds, which cuts the prep time in half.
While I am grateful for the privilege of being able to work from home during these crazy times, I’ll be looking forward to our eventual MCB family reunion, whenever that may be. Stay safe and well, everyone. Hang in there and try to find gratitude in the small things. We have and will continue to see tragic events, but we will get through this together, and we will emerge stronger for having survived this extraordinary time in human history.
Audrey Dallmeyer, Faculty Assistant (Hunter- and Bellono Labs)
The Hunter Lab has been using Slack to stay in touch. We have channels for fun random posts: animal photos and music etc., and science/lab business. The lab sent me a fun shot of them all on a Zoom lab “retreat” with everyone using the tropical palm trees zoom background. It is now our new lab website front-page photo, along with Nicole’s soft sculpture c. elegans.
The Bellono lab meets online regularly and I joined a meeting last week. It was lovely to see their smiling faces, check in and hear that the animals are doing well.
I am enjoying weekly meetings with the Admin team to discuss helpful topics, see what folks have been working on and share pointers for working from home. Seeing everyone’s furry four-legged friends always makes me smile.
I have been doing some more lab server file cleaning which is not very exciting but is time consuming and often ends up on the back burner. This frees up space for research data storage. I’m also trying to spruce up the lab websites with more photos. I’m taking Photoshop vector and Illustrator vector classes on Linkedin Learning to try my hand at more scientific illustrations.
I work part-time for Harvard and I am also a freelance illustrator so keeping to a regular schedule of many activities and tasks has helped me to stay sane and productive. Without the commute to Harvard I have more time for all my creative projects. I am working on two painting commissions and setting aside time each week for scrub cap and mask sewing. After helping my two children with online school assignments, or rather being reminded that my methods for working with fractions and math in general are old school, we do a lot of crafting projects and drawing together. So far, we have made piles of fancy soap, clay sculptures, origami paper animals, and a mini dollhouse library kit. Next on our list is giant candle making. My other method for staying sane is exercise, preferably long walks in the woods (easy social distancing).
My husband and I have been working most of the weekends on our gardens and house projects. After a long day of work, we all relax on the porch and do zoom parties to stay in touch with our friends and family. This week I think we are going to try online Settlers of Catan with a small group of friends. We also had our first fire of the season in our fire pit last weekend and roasted marshmallows.
I look forward to seeing people in person again. Online videos are great and I am grateful to have the option, but it is not quite the same. I’m glad Spring has finally arrived.
Polina Kehayova, Scientific Director
I am sure I am not alone in feeling that this is one of the most unexpected and unusual experiences I’ve gone through (and I’ve lived through the fall of communism ☺)! There are so many things that are constantly changing and up in the air, but one thing for me is clear- I miss MCB! A lot of my work can be done remotely so in some ways, my ability to be productive wasn’t particularly diminished by the closing. But a lot of the joy that I find in my work also stems from communicating with everyone at MCB in an unplanned way. I miss the postdocs who randomly stop by my office to chat about their job offers and career interests, I miss chatting with our faculty in the hallways, I miss the students whose infectious enthusiasm renews my wonder for science, and I miss our staff members, who are always ready to help researchers in any way they can.
For someone who tends to be constantly in motion, working from home has been an interesting adjustment. As all families, we’ve had to figure out how to partition the house and the hours of the day so that school and work can go on smoothly. My daughter plays violin at least 3 hours a day so maybe the biggest practical challenge has been finding a way to be on so many zoom meetings without too much mutual disruption. Of course, as I write this, I am keenly aware that I speak from the position of privilege- the privilege to be able to do my job remotely, my daughter’s privilege to be able to continue learning a musical instrument, the privilege to be in a school system where my child’s teachers spend time creating online learning tools so that children don’t fall behind academically. A lot of people are in less fortunate situations and I hope that all of us will be guided by generosity as we deal with the consequences of this pandemic in the years to come.
People close to me know that I have a couple of hobbies that are a major part of my life- music and art. I sing with the BSO and I like to sculpt elaborate cakes. Choral singing is unfortunately on hold for the foreseeable future, but there’s never a reason to stop making beautiful cakes! I love making sugar flowers late at night when everyone is asleep, and my whole family loves to snack on “cake salad”, as we call the cutouts that remain after sculpting a cake. I am including a couple of photos of the first covid-related cake, which I made for the modified birthday celebration of a close friend of mine. There will be a cake to celebrate coming out of isolation. The only question is whether it should be shaped like a coronavirus or like a roll of toilet paper ☺.
John Kropowensky, Curriculum Coordinator
Like many of you, this pandemic has created many challenges and opportunities, both professionally and personally for me. Back in early March, I naively thought it would be business as usual, perhaps a tad more cautious here and there, as I prepared to go on vacation to Norway later that month. I couldn’t have predicted how wrong I was as conditions steadily got worse and I saw each component of my long-awaited vacation get cancelled. But still I had hope that this virus would be over in a month, so much so that I only took the files I needed through the end of the semester, never thinking the work from home order would outlast the spring term.
Yet here we are, as finals wrap up, and what would have been commencement approaches. It feels surreal; a mixture of “Day of the Dead”, and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. But luckily, curriculum and course needs do not end just because we are no longer on campus. The remainder of the spring term went better than most were expecting, with our sudden need to adapt being successful. Work for next year continues; creating the catalog, allocating teaching support, revising budgets, and communicating all these developments and plans to our faculty. All the while, uncertainty looms in the air: what will fall semester and beyond actually look like? This has brought me challenges of creating several contingency plans for our courses and faculty to help ensure fall term goes as well as it can.
Other than working from home, I am also packing up my home. My sweet and dear (sarcasm) landlord decided that this was the year to renovate her property, so by August we all must depart. The added stress of searching for housing has been tough, but it has also provided a catalyst for change. With that thought it mind, I hope we all look at this hard time as a catalyst for change, a change for something better, whether that be a new home, a new recipe, or a new friend. All the best moving forward.
Debbie Maddalena, Assistant Director for Postdoctoral Affairs
Given that I prefer structure/routine, I’ve maintained my normal work schedule of 8:00-4:00 and have been able to do everything that I would normally do in the office.
The only caveat with working from home is the inability to conduct in-person orientation meetings with new postdocs. However, with on-line resources such as Zoom, this too, is achievable in a virtual manner.
I am grateful for anything that gets me out of the house, such as walking every day (weather permitting), doing weekend yard work, watching my Labs fetch frisbees, or simply going out for a ride in my car.
Jessica Manning, Executive Director
Who hasn’t wished for more time? In some ways, my wish came true…!
For me, Spring weekends (prior to COVID-19) were jam packed rushing from one sports field to another to watch my son, Aidan (14) play baseball and my daughter, Jacqueline (11) play soccer with limited time for anything else, especially spring cleaning. Thanks to Corona, all organized activities are cancelled, and I finally have some time to tackle home projects, including the organization of photos and my children’s keepsake trunks.
This has been a good way for me to create a sense of control during this unsettling time of uncertainty. I’ve shifted my daily 2-hour commute time to exercising (on most days) and having a regular family sit-down dinner, which is the highlight of my day. I also enjoy taking walks with my husband, Bill and chocolate lab, Mocha and watching my children keep themselves entertained for hours– even if it means turning a blind eye to seeing one of them ride a bike with the other in tow on a skateboard! Undoubtedly, I have a deeper sense of gratitude these days, especially for things that are often taken for granted such as health, safety, and simple joys in life like the sights of Spring.
We all find ourselves faced with rapidly changing, unusual circumstances these days. The lines of work and home life have become blurred. I never imagined my husband and I working full time from home while homeschooling 2 middle schoolers! My work hours have been long and full – preparation for lab shutdown, transition to remote work, preparation for re-occupancy, transition of Department Chair, and daily Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings that have replaced in person meetings and spurred several new meetings. The weekly MCB All Admin Staff Zoom Meet-Ups (over the past 2+ months) are one of my favorites! Fortunately, technology has allowed many of us to successfully continue working from home remotely.
I am looking forward to seeing everyone back on campus and especially the day when we can celebrate getting through this and emerging as a stronger and tighter-knit community. Until then, it’s great to see our MCB community stay connected while staying apart via MCB Slack: fas-mcb.slack.com, Stay Connected stories, Virtual Cork Board, virtual meetings, seminars and thesis defenses.
We can look at this time in our lives as a major setback or reframe it to see the silver lining, I’ve chosen the latter while trying to keep a positive outlook.
Jack Conlin, Lab Services/Audio-Visual Technician
Kelsey Cox, Administrative Coordinator
Camila Ossa, Events Coordinator
Jack Rizutko, Human Resources Coordinator
What projects/initiatives might you be working on these days as you work remotely?
Jack Conlin: I continue to download talks that I have recorded from 3 years of Global Health Threats where Prof. Losick and Barry Bloom hosted various faculty members who are experts in their fields to come in twice a week to give lectures to students. I keep working on Adobe Premiere to format all these talks, oh I wish I had Windows MovieMaker which was an easier program, but no longer supported. There is a learning curve on the Adobe program as it is newer technology for me and not getting any easier
Kelsey Cox: I am working on zoom events to keep our office connected during remote work, learning to cover payroll, and making videos with MCB Graphics to congratulate the graduating class.
Camila Ossa: MCB department has decided to continue offering seminars to the community. In fact, we are hosting lectures every Thursday at noon by either a Graduate student, a Postdoctoral fellow or a guest speaker from another institution. I have been supporting the logistics related to Zoom meetings. Our department is working very hard in keeping the entire MCB community connected through this crisis. In fact, we have created a channel called Slack. I have been posting a variety of ideas on things to do virtual during this unique time period. I have organized zoom actives for members of the MCB admin. These virtual events are helping us stay connected and continue to offer positive engagement amongst colleagues. I have worked on a variety of activities related to events that were booked prior to the beginning of this pandemic. This involved communicating with venues and carefully canceling events. I also have done research on potential locations for some of our future events for when we are ready to host events again. I also have obtained detail information on events related matters. I have trained on new platforms such as Zoom, Slack, Teams, One Drive and Sharepoint. Learning new systems enable me to assist several members of my team and other colleagues across campus.
Jack Rizutko: I’ve enjoyed running the daily Cork Board for social interaction, as well as checking in individually with folks to hear about how they’re doing.
Have you encountered any difficulties or problems and found solutions?
Jack Conlin: I find that the internet is not all that great working from my cellar, it takes a little longer than normal to upload videos of talks that I have recorded in the past and then format them through Abobe Premiere to format it over to a quicktime or MP4 talk. I also find it challenging to adapt to the protocols of submitting pcard transactions and converting over to pdf files to submit to financial, but it’s always good to learn something new as we get a little older and forgetful at times. I keep in touch with our IT guru Kendall who has been just plain awesome in everything he does and instrumental in getting things sorted out for me.
Kelsey Cox: Staying focused can be difficult because I have roommates that are also working remotely. We have each tried our best to create our own “office” in different rooms of the house. However, there are times when our zoom calls overlap or someone gets finished with work early and wants to chat, or turn on the tv, or use a space. It’s an adjustment.
Camila Ossa: At the beginning, I had to learn how to operate different platforms in order to be able to support activities across our community. Luckily, Harvard provide us with all the necessary tools to learn online. Linkedin Learning, Lynda.com.
Jack Rizutko: I have 5 people in my small condo. 4 of them are working adults who take part in meetings regularly, so space and sound privacy are at a premium. Now that the weather is nicer, we try to work from the porch when we can.
Are you regularly in touch with others?
Jack Conlin: I have been working with Val on keeping up with my pcard transactions, I also keep in touch with Camila as we look forward to getting back to MCB and working on all our lectures, seminars and colloquias. I also keep in touch with Sid Paula and Chris Caldwell from EHS to see how they are doing as they are on the front lines with this Covid 19 virus. I reach out to Linda Loprete to see how she is doing these days, also keep in touch with Kendall if I have any questions on IT, also to LJ on when we will get together at the Cambridge Common for a couple of cocktails and see his family, look forward to a summer/fall get together with all our admin staff for an outing when life gets back to normal. I miss all my coworkers
Kelsey Cox: Yes. We have admin staff meetings every week and I zoom with other people to work on various projects.
Camila Ossa: Yes. I have interacted with all members of my team and with other colleagues across campus.
Jack Rizutko: Yes. I have regular meetings and reach out to folks 1:1 just to say hello and ask them how they are.
What’s your schedule these days?
Jack Conlin: I have a weird schedule still, as I was serving the MCB community and courses during the semester that ran late, depending on the faculty/student needs, I would start at 9:30-10am and stay until 6:30-7pm or later some nights at the department. It appears that it has carried over to working at home now, going online near 9-9:30 and continuing during the day , even going online at 9-9:30 at night, I have received comments from a couple of my co-workers about submitting work that late in the evening. I really do miss the daily interactions with staff, students, faculty at MCB and helping out in any way contribute to making research, studies and admin work go smoothly.
Kelsey Cox: Generally, 9:00-5:00.
Camila Ossa: I am usually up by 6am and I try to exercise at least three times a week. My son normally wakes up at 7am and that is when we spend time having breakfast and preparing for the day. At around 9am, I explain to my son his school activities and let him work next to me. That is when, I start checking emails, working on projects and request from my department. While my son is having zoom meetings with his class at noon, I usually cook and organize some areas of my house. At about, 1:30pm my son and I get back to our responsibilities and work throughout the afternoon taking a couple of breaks. Before the end of the day, we try to go on a 1 hour walk or bike ride.
Jack Rizutko: I get up and “commute” to work by taking a walk outside before settling in to work through the morning. Afternoons are a mixed bag alternating with childcare, meetings and responding to email.
How are you staying sane? Have you started any new hobbies/projects from home?
Jack Conlin: I try to get out every day and chop wood for about 20-45 minutes, the pieces are getting smaller and smaller as I need kindling these days to start the wood stove fires up north or just here at home in the outdoor fire pit. I’m trying to keep up with house projects, but all my tools are at the cabin in Maine where my wife and I continue to finish off the inside. Another thing I have found fascinating is watching youtube videos with my wife each night on learning more about sustainability, permaculture, living off grid and getting ideas that we can apply in our lives living in the woods of Maine. For example we follow, My Self Reliance with Shawn James, the Boss of the Swamp, 50 Acres and a Cabin, Off Grid Living with Doug and Stacy, simple living in Alaska, pure living for life, and so many more.
Kelsey Cox: I go for walks around my neighborhood, listen to lots of audiobooks, meditate, and garden. I started making greeting cards to cheer up friends and family but enjoyed making them so much that I have continued just for fun.
Camila Ossa: I have spent time cooking, reading, listening to mystery podcasts, walking outside with my family and meeting with my family/friends in zoom.
Jack Rizutko: Exercise is critical. I have a hard time being around people so constantly, but lifting weights and walking generally restore some semblance of sanity. I’ve also started re-working my exterior space to be more in line with permaculture best practices.
What are you most grateful for these days?
Jack Conlin: I think the most important thing is being at home, able to work as I have my office in the cellar, but the priority these days is taking care of my father. At 85 his dementia, or the phone conversation last week with a neurologist at Lahey made the diagnosis of Lewey Body Dementia which is progressingly taking its toll on him. I have been using time off to go to Maine to work on the cabin on long weekends, but it leaves my wife Rachel behind to watch dad which is becoming more stressful. She texted me on Thursday morning last week that dad was nowhere to be found, the security camera showed that he left the house for a walk at 6:40am. She drove around Woburn for over an hour and couldn’t find him, then went home and he showed up shortly after when someone dropped him off. He walked in the opposite direction and fell down on the sidewalk and finding out that no one stopped to help him as he couldn’t get up, one good Samaritan picked him up and dad thought he lived in Lexington and off they went to the police station and they were able to identify where he lived and the person who helped him up got him home safely. Fortunately, he is better off with us for now, rather than being in a nursing home where the virus is spreading quickly. On another good note, the western channel has become my favorite these days with watching either a John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or Henry Fonda classic.
Kelsey Cox: I’m grateful for my health, my family and friends, my job, and any day with sunshine.
Camila Ossa: I am grateful that my family and I are healthy. In addition, I am thankful that I can assist my department and continue to maintain my job status during this health crisis.
Jack Rizutko: I’m grateful that the weather is improving and it’s getting easier to spend time outside.