The novel coronavirus

As history of science graduate students navigating life and school work during this pandemic, we decided to take a look at how two of the graduate students in the History and Philosophy program are handling things amidst coronavirus.

Two graduate students, master’s student Picabo Fraas and Ph.D. student Aimee Hisey have graciously spent some time reflecting on how life has been affected by the coronavirus and how they have been making the best out of this unusual situation.

Fraas, a North Lake Tahoe California Native is in her first year of the History and Philosophy of Science master’s program. She comes to OSU after completing her B.A. in history from the University of California-Santa Barbara. Fraas is interested in the history of field work in the 19th century. She has recently been focusing on the role gender has played on the world of paleontologists, specifically in the American Southwest.

Hisey is a second year Ph.D. student. Hailing from Corvallis, Hisey completed both her B.A. in history and M.A. in interdisciplinary studies from Oregon State University. Hisey is interested in the history of medicine in the early modern period in Spain and the viceroyalties. Recently, she has focused on the role of surgeon barbers in viceregal Mexico.

After some socially distant interview techniques, involving a mixture of Zoom and email, a compilation of their answers are below. Both Fraas and Hisey have remained in Corvallis during Governor Brown’s Stay Home-Save Lives order.

How are you adapting your research during this pandemic?

Fraas-I have been adapting my research to focus on digital sources. With such a short time frame to complete my Master’s thesis, I really have no other choice but to abandon my previous sources and go for ones that I can access online. I will say though, that there are some incredible sources out there that I would not have known about otherwise. While the sources may not be as original as ones found only in an archive, there is no lack of material available.

Hisey– Research is somewhat taking a back seat to comps prep this term. Though that has its own adaptations. With the library closed, all books have to be shipped to us, which delays them by a few days, if not weeks. Trying to make sure we have all of the texts we need in order to prepare for our exams has been tricky, but the library is doing all they can to prop us up during this chaos. What little primary source research I have been able to squeeze in is primarily finding archival cases relevant to my topic that I can access once we’re able to travel abroad again. 

What kind of innovative measures towards your research are you taking as a result of the pandemic?

Fraas-In order to find digital materials, I have reached out to other scholars that have used the same archival material in the past. The archivist at the museum where I was planning on doing research this summer has been incredibly helpful in putting me in contact with other people who have made digital copies of the material I need, and she has been flexible about the rights to the material and sharing it over email. The leads that she has suggested have been incredibly fruitful!

Hisey– I have done some deep dives to try to find any secondary sources that might mention a primary source that I’ve been able to track down. Since I can’t get to Spain or Mexico yet, it’s been helpful to see how other authors have interpreted these cases, even if only mentioned in passing, which is usually the case. 

Have there been any positives from this? If so, what have they been? Silver linings?

Fraas-The lack of access to sources that I had originally planned on using has forced me to look at other kinds of sources which has moved my project in a better direction. The types of sources that are available are steering me in a more international direction which was something that I was interested in pursuing anyways. The current situation has really pushed me to be creative with my sources and will likely make for a more interesting project in the long run.

Hisey– It’s been this strange sort of paradox. At times, my research and preparation for my comprehensive exams are some of the only things that keep me distracted from the global uncertainty and anxiety. At other times, it’s incredibly difficult to find motivation. What I’ve been most grateful for is my cohort members. We’ve set up weekly Zoom meetings to check in with one another mentally and to keep one another accountable for our work. It’s been incredibly helpful. We all have such diverse research interests, that it never feels competitive. I love hearing about everyone’s research and how they’re making progress in times of uncertainty. I don’t consider myself a very social person, any struggle I’ve had with this pandemic has been much more about global uncertainty and fear than about needing human interaction. That said, I am truly grateful for our cohort. We do a weekly, virtual IM trivia and check in on one another with our What’sApp group chat. I feel really lucky to be going through this with this small group of people. 

How have you created a productive workspace? And if you haven’t, why isn’t is productive and what could you do to make it productive? 

Fraas-I am very fortunate to have plenty of space to work at home. I find that I cannot always work in the same space and a change of scenery does wonders for my productivity. Some days my desk works just fine, but I often find myself sitting (or laying) on the floor to get work done. Just this morning, I set up my workspace on the patio to enjoy the sunshine while working on my project. If you find yourself unmotivated working on the couch, or the thought of going into your office seems daunting, move! Wherever works to get the creative juices flowing.

Fraas’s workspace. The giant pillow on the floor is Bernardo, Fraas’s trusty floor companion since her undergraduate studies and #1 study buddy.

Hisey-I brought everything from my office on campus to my office at home. All of my library books, (my own were already here) all of my past coursework in file boxes. I get less done at home than I do on campus and miss my secluded office desperately. But I’ve been fairly productive at home as long as I keep everything organized. Clutter does not allow me to get anything done. 

Hisey’s home office.

What kind of advice do you have to others about the keys to productivity? 

Fraas-The key to productivity is different for everyone. Scheduling time to work can be helpful. For example, Friday morning is the time I dedicate to my thesis project. Even if I have more pressing assignments or other things I’d rather do, I force myself to sit down for at least an hour a week and focus on my project. Once I get going, I find that it’s really not as daunting as I thought and I keep going on it even after the hour is up. It just works as a commitment to myself to let my project take priority over coursework for at least one hour a week. I also like to schedule time to relax in the evening.  Every morning, I set about four or five goals that I want to accomplish before dinner time, and if I get them all done then I can relax for the rest of the evening. 

Hisey– 1) I never sit down to work for a set amount of time. I’ve tried to set small, attainable goals–keeping mental health as my primary goal–that will allow me to reach smaller milestones, but still get work done. (i.e. I need to read and note two chapters; I need to outline this paper). 2) Tell your partner, roomate, whatever “for the next four hours, pretend I’m not here and don’t bother me.” 3) Thankfully, my husband has been very supportive and doesn’t take it personally when I say that. Ha. 

How has the pandemic changed your research? What will be the long term effects? 

Fraas-I have had to change the scope of my research due to the circumstances. While I was excited about my original project, I’m sure that these new sources will bring up ideas that I hadn’t thought of before. The creativity and resilience needed to continue to pursue a master’s thesis during a pandemic are important skills that I may not have been able to work on otherwise. 

Hisey– I don’t know when any of us will be able to travel again. Originally, I had a trip to Spain planned for this summer. However, that’s been pushed out indefinitely until global travel is less dangerous. Instead, this summer, I’ll be accessing whatever primary sources I can online, building my case list for when we can travel, and doing all of the secondary source research I can to prepare for writing the dissertation. 

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