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What's working like for you?

colour portrait photograph of Mara Oliva

The coronavirus lockdown has changed the way we work individually, with our own teams and with other teams at the University. Whether we are working from home or are working on the campus, each of us is adapting in our own way to these changed circumstances. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we will share the experience of some of our colleagues.

Dr Mara Oliva is a lecturer in the department of History. Her area of expertise is twentieth century US foreign policy and she is the director of the MA in History programme.

We asked Mara how the lockdown had affected her work:

“Like many colleagues, I had to quickly work out how to present the MA in History course virtually and make online alternatives available. MA students need to complete a material culture assignment on an object taken from one of the MERL’s collections. Instead, students have been allowed to select an object from an online collection, which fortunately there are now many. Unfortunately my new research project is based on a collection in the New York Public Library which isn’t available online. I’d planned to spend some of the summer studying this collection and now won’t be able to. Though the University Library has been great at maintaining access to secondary sources readily available, so I’ve been able to start the background reading to the new project.

“Whereas we have been using Teams to find solutions where possible, it’s not always the same as a face to face experience. One of the things that doesn’t work well online are conferences, many of which have been postponed or cancelled. Some did not but weren’t effective, mainly because you lose all the important networking time in between sessions, during meals and at the end of the day. This is when people get the chance to really develop their collaborations/projects. I was going to host a conference in Reading in September but have postponed it until it can be held in a face to face way again.

“There have been lots of emotions to deal and with my family in Italy the anxiety started earlier for me than many colleagues. Working with students pastorally virtually has been especially challenging, the screen seems somehow to magnify the anxiety. You see an anxious young person across from you but you can’t reach out to them. We did have a virtual viva (oral examination) for a PhD with internal and external examiners. Whereas the viva was relative straight forward, having online drinks wasn’t a good substitute for celebrating the new doctor’s success on our beautiful campus.

“Though I love working with students in class, I find it much easier to carry out research work at home where things tend to be quieter and I can work on my own. Recently this has meant carrying out research work in the quiet times in the evenings and at weekends. Something which I’ve found beneficial as it’s almost become a form of relaxation for me, as it gives me time to switch off from everything.”

To enable as many people as possible to share their experience the Internal Communications team has developed a storyboard, so if you’d like to take part, contact the Internal Communications team and a member of the team will guide you through the process. These will form a series of articles on what new ways of working have been like for colleagues as well as offering practical advice, hints and tips on how to manage this.

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