Coping with COVID-19 As An Early Career Scholar (Part I)

By Lindsay M. Fallon, University of Massachusetts – Boston; and Amanda L. Sullivan, University of Minnesota

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has been known to infect over a million people worldwide. Its spread brings great concern for physical health and safety, but also emotional wellness; access to healthcare, education and employment; caring for oneself and others; managing competing responsibilities; and much more. A pandemic of this magnitude is uncharted territory for most of us and there remain many unknowns. Intense and new feelings about the virus and its impact are justified. Kindness to oneself is critical in navigating through this difficult and unsettling time.

As early career scholars in a helping profession, it can be hard to know exactly what to do or how to help. Those whom we support, teach, and mentor may be experiencing illness or significant disruptions to their life (e.g., moving away or back home to be with family, experiencing an abrupt end to on-site fieldwork, managing the interruption to dissertation data collection, unemployment or illness among family members). Challenges may be exacerbated for individuals from historically minoritized backgrounds, including first-gen students, individuals from racially minoritized backgrounds, women, and others given racialized, classist, gendered, and ableist dimensions of this crisis. Taken together, this may bring about feelings of disappointment, discomfort, and even grief. Those we mentor may require additional and more intensive support during a time when we also need time and space to process and adjust to unanticipated changes ourselves. It is critical we engage in self-care, access social support, and set and maintain manageable expectations now and in the coming months.

There are many ways to engage in self-care. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend: 

  • Taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Taking care of one’s body by engaging in relaxation techniques (deep breathing, stretching, meditation), healthy eating, exercise, and adequate sleep.
  • Making time to unwind and connect with others. Talking with trusted friends and colleagues can help to process difficult events and feelings.

Additional recommendations and resources have been offered by NASP, SAMHSA and others

Accessing necessary social support is, of course, impacted by the practice of social distancing, or physical distancing as it is more aptly named. Guidance by the American Psychological Association (APA) emphasizes the value of using technology in the absence of face-to-face interactions. This includes using phone calls, text messages, video chat and social media to access social support networks. There are many virtual social media support groups emerging (e.g., Facebook groups) to facilitate communication and a sense of community. While social and professional support needs will vary for individuals, the realization that all early career scholars are experiencing this pandemic together is powerful. We hope that early career scholars utilize each other as support systems and build stronger collaborative relationships as a result of these challenging times.

It’s also important to set and maintain manageable expectations in the coming weeks and months. What is manageable is necessarily different now and will likely vary throughout this pandemic. Most faculty are grappling with the unwieldy task of quickly transitioning to online instruction while also managing extensive, and perhaps growing, personal demands. Rebecca Barrett-Fox offered numerous reasons why you should please do a bad job of putting your courses online during this unprecedented time. Her rationale and corresponding recommendations are especially helpful for scholars who are deeply committed to high quality preparation of school psychologists and high personal standards of excellence generally. We all want to do our best. As she points out, present circumstances necessitate a qualitatively different approach to online teaching than we’d pursue outside of a crisis. Be kind to yourself and your students by doing less. That’s more important now than learning and implementing the most recent teaching apps or ensuring that your online course is as rigorous as you’d intended the in-person class to be before COVID-19 upended everything. Elsewhere, recommendations for supporting struggling online learners are increasingly abundant, but the general themes are to be flexible, low tech, and as minimalistic as possible. It’s also reasonable to assume your students are or will be struggling with COVID-related challenges and to practice compassion accordingly.

Contrary to early posturing about mimicking Shakespeare or Newton’s pandemic productivity, this crisis does not lend itself to research productivity for most of us. We aren’t on mandatory writing retreats when stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders are issued by university and state leaders. This is especially true for individuals now acclimating to round-the-clock childcare duties; distance learning support for school-age kids; mutual aid for friends, loved ones, and community members; and supporting our students, advisees, supervisees, and colleagues—to say nothing of the personal emotional toll of all of this. We are anxious. We are angry. We are grieving. We are scared.

As scholars and graduate educators, most of us have the privilege of being able to continue our work from our homes following social distancing and home isolation orders. Yet, as many have pointed out, “You’re not working from home. You’re sheltering in place during a pandemic and trying to get work done in the gaps between taking care of yourself, your loved ones, and your worries.” Such pandemic work is fundamentally different from choosing to work from home outside of an international crisis. Research findings on employees’ stable or enhanced productivity when working from home are not generalizable to our present context. We must give ourselves permission to expect less from everyone—ourselves, our students, our collaborators, our colleagues—right now. 

Indeed, it may be hard to concentrate or focus on certain tasks, making it difficult to feel productive. This can feel stressful, but is completely understandable. Now, productivity will likely look very different than it did last semester. Practice acknowledging and accepting this, along with celebrating what you are doing: responding to the needs of students, colleagues, clients, etc. is essential, meaningful work. Also, many of us now have children at home all day and are navigating work and caregiving responsibilities. This calls for flexibility with deadlines, requests, and workload. As such, it might also be important to communicate with professional colleagues about capacity and deadlines (e.g., asking for more time to review manuscripts for editorial boards). It is important to think about ways to advocate for one’s needs during this time. Don’t be afraid to request extensions, step away from projects, or ask for other assistance. 

For tenure-track junior faculty, it may be necessary to discuss with department, college, and university colleagues about adjusted expectations pre-tenure (e.g., fewer publications required; paused tenure clocks). Many universities are automatically extending probationary periods or are allowing faculty to opt in to pausing their clocks. It can be difficult to grant yourself use of such allowances because of common criticisms of pausing clocks that many of us have encountered from senior scholars and others, not to mention concern for how it may widen gender disparities, but these are extraordinarily challenging times. 

Those of us with more privilege* must advocate and assist our more vulnerable colleagues. This means being flexible with scheduling, deadlines, and delegation of responsibilities and assignments. It means, as much as possible given our own challenges, shouldering more of the burden than we put on junior faculty, contingent faculty colleagues, and students. It also means advocating for tenure clock extensions if they aren’t already in place and ensuring that we make allowances for this lost year when evaluating junior scholars’ accomplishments and potential in the context of promotion, tenure (pssst – external reviewers), student reviews, hiring, or grant or fellowship proposals. The likely impact on grades, research output, teaching evaluations, service activities, and other professional activities or accomplishments should not be ignored or downplayed once this pandemic passes. 

In the coming days, weeks, and months, we will have a better sense of how long COVID-19 will impact our daily lives and of the long lasting impact the pandemic will have on our field and society. In the meantime, we can take care of ourselves and others by normalizing our own feelings of discomfort and stress, engaging in self-care to the extent that we’re able, accessing social support as needed, setting and maintaining manageable expectations, and being an advocate for what we need at this time. This is undoubtedly a pivotal moment in history. Let’s be kind to ourselves as we navigate the duality of this unprecedented time.


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This is part 1 of at least two posts the Early Career Forum is preparing to address the unique circumstances COVID-19 presents for early career scholars and others in our school psychology community. Our next installment will address the research challenges for early career scholars in school psychology. To our readers: What questions do you have for the ECF? What resources or opportunities would you like to see? What other recommendations would you offer to our community for coping with COVID-related issues as an early career scholar? Tell us in the comments section below or comment on Twitter or Facebook.

* As a full professor, I (Amanda) know that I am co-writing this from a place of immense privilege. I challenge myself and my similarly privileged peers to ask how we can support those without the luxuries of rank, tenure, and everything that comes with it. We must also keep in mind that the consequences of this crisis will continue to reverberate, even when/if we return to business as usual, so our grace must extend beyond the crisis.

6 thoughts on “Coping with COVID-19 As An Early Career Scholar (Part I)”

  1. Thank you for this blog. I look forward to the next one. My topic of interest includes job stability. I’m only in my second year as an assistant professor but I’m also the director of the school psychology graduate program. I have adjunct faculty but no other full time faculty in my program. I’m running a very lonely program. Today, I discovered that the university is asking me to reduce my salary by nearly 9k next year. This was a discussion that happened before the pandemic. Now, there’s talk of economic depression and the impact on enrollment in universities. This is very frightening to me. I’m already struggling with the emotions of a pandemic, my changing role, the anxieties of the future, and now the depression of a pay cut. I’m really struggling to maintain my own emotional well being let alone supporting my students and immediate family. I’d like to read about navigating the emotions and instability of my job. When do I look for other work? When is too much too much? I’ve only been doing this 2 years and I don’t even have pubs to help me move to another professor role. Do I go back into the field? I’m sorry. I’m just rambling now. It’s been a tough day. I really enjoyed your blog. I helped me remember that I’m not alone. This is tough times for all of us. I need to give myself grace. Thanks again.

    1. Danielle – Thank you so much for your reply. First of all, I want to start by saying that what you are experiencing is incredibly challenging and I appreciate your bravery regarding sharing your situation. I know you are not alone. As the recent Chronicle of Higher Ed article mentioned, private schools are being hit the hardest by COVID and many are experiencing such things as pay cuts, increased teaching responsibilities, reduced benefits etc. Your situation has another layer in that you are the lead and only faculty member in your program. This layer of isolation while also attempting to keep the program and students thriving while also trying to care for your own career and mental health must be incredibly challenging. I just want to recognize that what you are going through is incredibly tough – and on top of it all we are experiencing a global pandemic. Please know that the ECF and other faculty in the field are here for you. To reduce your isolation please reach out to me or others whenever you need. Secondly, I am curious about some of the things you mentioned. For example, the university is asking you to take a pay cut. Is this something that HR has mandated for everyone? Are you on a one-year contract? Before you sign anything I recommend you get mentorship in this area. For example, there might be some ways to supplement your income if you would like ideas for that. Are there people within your institution that you consider your advocates? If not, who can you reach out to in an effort to establish these relationships? Remember that publishing in school psychology is one aspect of some faculty jobs. There are many jobs that will value your practitioner experience more than anything and will be more heavily teaching focused. I have no doubt that there are other roles within academia that would be available, but I also recognize that comes with a lot of other personal and professional considerations. It is reassuring that in our field we do have multiple positions (such as going back into the field) as professional opportunities. However, I know I speak for everyone that we hope we do not lose someone in academia. The work you do training school psychologists is incredibly important! Your impact is great! I am here if you would ever like to discuss this further. Please know that what you are experiencing is incredibly challenging – but also that there are many people ready to support you. Take care. – Bryn

      1. I appreciate the comments Bryn made and am also glad to help in any way I can (my contact info is linked in the post). You describe is a very difficult situation. I hope we can share materials, ideas or resources to make your work easier right now.

  2. I appreciated this piece and think you raise a number of good points about exercising flexibility in terms of what it means to be productive during this time. Thank you!

    As a follow-up, I wondered about a piece on the policies or practices senior faculty should recommend to support ECFs. For example, I was interested in an expanded discussion about tenure clock stops. You noted problems associated with tenure clock extensions (especially for minoritized ECF); but also wrote that faculty should “advocat[e] for tenure clock extensions if they aren’t already in place and ensuring that we make allowances for this lost year when evaluating junior scholars’ accomplishments and potential in the context of promotion, tenure”.

    1. Hi Michael. Thank you for your comment. If you email me, I can send you what our university administrators sent out about this. It may be something to share with others where you are. My contact info is linked in the post.

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