Careers Clinic: what if I’m struggling to switch back online?

THE’s Careers Clinic series brings together the great and good of higher education to answer a burning careers question

January 12, 2021
Online lecture vector
Source: iStock

With lockdowns of varying severity in place in many countries, the higher education sector faces yet more uncertainty and yet more online provision. Teaching online comes more naturally to some than others, so we asked five experts what instructors should do if they are feeling overwhelmed by the switch to online. Here is what they said:

“Remember, these times are not ordinary times. Be forgiving of yourself if you feel less productive than usual. Keep in mind that, in the absence of the quick chat in the corridor, some tasks are harder because awkward questions are harder to ask privately and relationships can’t be built in the same way. Zoom (or insert platform of your choice) is tiring and body language cannot be easily read. All these things make every interaction harder and more exhausting than would once have been the case. Everyone is struggling in this virtual world.”
Dame Athene Donald is professor of experimental physics at Churchill College, University of Cambridge.

This is not normal: Advice for stressed academics

“It is OK to feel overwhelmed. Take it a step at a time. I still remember it like yesterday when the pandemic began and we had to switch our teaching. I was overwhelmed. Then I realised that if I took it a step at a time eventually it would be done. Moreover, it has been almost a year, and there are many resources available now. Look for those resources at your institution, and if they are not available, reach out to colleagues. Social media can also come in handy. Twitter, for example, is a good channel to ask for resources.”
Esther Ngumbi is assistant professor of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Remember: good teaching is good teaching no matter the environment. To learn well, students need to take intellectual risks. Your job as a teacher is to build a learning environment where they feel safe enough to do so. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, step away from the fancy gizmos and bling and go back to basics: communication, interaction, structure and support.”
Cath Ellis is associate dean (education) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UNSW Sydney.

“Speak to someone. Anyone. A colleague, someone in HR, your GP, your line manager. Finding the first person to confide in is the biggest challenge. Once you’ve done so, follow it up by (a) telling your line manager and (b) seeking some professional help. You’ll probably find that a range of resources, advice and colleagues keen to help. Many of them will share the same concerns at some point, and the pandemic has brought the best of our collegiate spirit to the fore, so it won’t be as bad as you think.”
Robert Macintosh is professor of strategic management and head of the School of Social Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

“It’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes in a repetitive daily routine at home. Excessive workload or lack of concentration may be the cause, so it could be necessary to share or rearrange the work by asking for help from a colleague or supervisor. Senior management should not forget that the mental well-being of staff is directly related to their productivity. In addition, having a dedicated workspace at home and knowing when to clock out are other important strategies for staying focused when we work from home.”
Chang H. Kim is research fellow at the Cairns Institute, Australia. He serves as executive director of the Korean Association of Human Resource Development in South Korea.

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