Interviews conducted by Carey Schafer, Web Content Developer, USF College of Marine Science
One Faculty Member’s Perspective – Chris Stallings, PhD
Quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: It’s now been over four months since the pandemic largely disrupted our lives. How has your work been impacted?
A: I’m happy that we are healthy, and we’ve been trying to keep the kids busy and entertained with fun and safe activities. They’re a bit young to fully understand what is happening, but I think they have a general grasp. Juggling being a full-time parent and full-time elementary school teacher certainly has had its challenges. Adding our full-time jobs to the mix has made it all seem almost impossible at times.
**door slams loudly in the background, Chris excuses himself**
Sorry, the kids were having a little tiff. They were supposed to be in their live lessons. Anyway, I’ve got them back at it and thankfully no one lost a finger in the door slamming incident. I apologize for the disruptions. I still haven’t directly answered the question. My work has been affected in many ways. First, as you may have noticed, it’s difficult to find even a 15-minute period of uninterrupted time. And unlike interruptions by colleagues to discuss science, these are interruptions to teach first and second grades and, of course, to keep three young humans alive. Switching gears between trying to convince a funding agency they should support my research over the next three years and trying to teach common core math is pretty abrupt.
Q: Long term, what impacts do you see this pandemic having on the field of marine science or academia as a whole?
A: In the short-term the uncertainty may lead scientists to take a more local approach to their research. This could include analyzing previously or remotely collected data, especially for more distant locations. I think funding agencies may be reluctant to fund work that includes a lot of travel right now, whether they state this publicly or not. Recruitment will likely look a little different this year at CMS. I don’t think we’ll be back to a pre-COVID place by February. I think we can still do a good job recruiting students, but we’ll need to find a way to remotely showcase the college, campus, and the city of St. Pete, as these are selling points to bring in top notch students.
Q: There are certainly a lot of negatives associated with the disruption to our regular schedules. Have you found anything positive or unexpected that has come along with this change?
A: A surprising positive effect of working from home has been that my graduate students and I seem to be having more scientific and casual conversations than we did pre-pandemic. We seem to be leaning on each other in new ways and I really appreciate it. It’s been a real highlight for me!
Q: There is a distinct possibility remote teaching will continue for the entirety of the fall semester. In your opinion, what aspects of marine science education are effective in a remote format and what are better taught in-person?
A: Online instruction can potentially be a powerful way to educate, but I think we’ll need to approach it differently than the simply moving lectures to Teams as if we were all together in a lecture hall. One idea is to record lectures and deliver them with supporting material ahead of set meeting times. The students would watch the lectures and study the material before going into online meetings with instructors and use that time for discussion and clarification. However, much of what we do, both with our science and education, is hands on. How does a student fully appreciate dissections or field experiences in a remote learning environment? We are creative and will need to find ways to bring these experiences to the students in new ways.
Q: Moving forward, do you think the College of Marine Science or academia as a whole will be more willing to embrace a hybrid-type approach when it comes to working and learning?
A: Well, if people aren’t willing to embrace new ways of conducting business, they are going to be left behind. Trying to figure out the “how” is the challenge.
Q: What shortcomings within academia, if any, has this pandemic brought to light and how could we work to fix those?
A: I think the two biggest shortcomings the pandemic has brought up are inequities within the academy, and more broadly in K-12 education, and poor scientific literacy of the general public. Regarding inequities, online learning is challenging even with the best technology money can buy. For those lacking these resources, it is even more difficult. Universities and school districts will need to find ways to improve access to these resources for those that cannot afford them. Regarding scientific literacy of the general public, I have been pretty disheartened how this very serious pandemic has been met with the familiar public reactions of politicized perspectives and denial of science. I don’t know how to fix this problem, but I do think that a society that listens to, relies on, and trusts science is a healthy one with incredible opportunities for growth.