Letter from Chair Sharon Glotzer
March 15, 2020
Dear Chemical Engineering Students, Faculty and Staff,
We are living in an extraordinary time.
The everyday aspects of university life that we often take for granted are disrupted. It is likely that it will be some time before things return to normal and we should expect the possibility of further inconveniences as our university community navigates this new, yet temporary, normal.
By taking extreme “social distancing” measures, we are purposefully working together with a singular mission: to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 spread. Together, we can slow the number of people needing medical attention and help reduce the expected burden on our hospitals and health workers. This natural experiment we are engaged in will save lives.
We’ve all been getting multiple messages from the University, the College and the Department with official updates, information and policies; this letter is different.
We are all in this together, and I want to share the following thoughts. Please read the whole letter, not just the part pertaining to you, so we can all better understand one another’s situation.
You are our number one priority. We are 100% committed to finishing this semester over the next six weeks in the safest and smoothest way possible. Your professors are working tirelessly to move courses online so we can minimize disruptions to your education. It won’t be perfect. It may get messy. There will be glitches both with online technology and with us all becoming comfortable with this sudden change in format. It will take time to get everything working. Please be patient with us. We know many of you are anxious and uncertain. Please do not worry about any impact this disruption will have on your grades. We understand that taking exams or completing projects online is not what you’re used to. We understand that many of you have left campus and returned home, and you may have slower internet speeds than you’re used to, especially if you live in a rural area. You may also be in different time zones. Please promptly communicate any issues you experience, concerns you have, problems of any kind you foresee, etc. to your professor so we can quickly address them. If Plan A doesn’t work, we’ll go to plan B. If plan B doesn’t work, we’ll go to plan C. And so on. We got this!
This is not the way you were expecting to finish your senior year at Michigan. Commencement exercises have been cancelled. Senior dinner is cancelled (but we extend a big thank you to Joseph and our sophomore representatives for their incredible planning efforts!). All of this is a huge disappointment, and definitely sucks. But remember: Wolverines are Wolverines for life – your relationship with Michigan doesn’t end here! Know that we are so very proud of all you’ve accomplished in your four years here. When things settle down, we’ll figure out a way to celebrate – together – your extraordinary achievements as Michigan ChE graduates!
Grad students and postdocs
Your brilliant research is changing the world! This disruption in day-to-day operations is stressful, especially for those of you with ongoing experiments (that don’t run on computers). At least for now, the university is not closed and if you need to be in the lab, you can, but please keep in mind that this could change at any time. If you absolutely must go to the lab, work with your group mates and your advisor to schedule who will be in the lab when, so you’re not all there at the same time. Clean surfaces you touch with 70% ethanol. PhD students – you may be anxious about upcoming qualifying and prelim exams, data meetings and thesis defenses. Don’t worry – all of these can be completed virtually if needed! Continue participating in group meetings virtually. Continue your 1:1 meetings with your advisor on BlueJeans or Slack or another platform. It’s easy to share slides, data, or manuscripts and have as productive a meeting as you would have in person. If you’re in between essential experiments and/or don’t have to be in the lab, please work from home. Take this time to practice more extreme socially distancing. Work on manuscripts. Read the literature. Write a thesis chapter. Get a jump on your DCE or prelim report. Plan your next experiment. Brainstorm new ideas. After all, when Shakespeare was quarantined due to the plague, he wrote King Lear. When Isaac Newton was quarantined in 1665, Wikipedia reports that “… the University closed down as a precaution against the Great Plague. Although he had been undistinguished as a Cambridge student, Newton’s private studies at his home in Woolsthorpe over the next two years saw the development of his theories on calculus, optics and the law of gravitation.” Just sayin’.
I’m so impressed with how each and every one of you has scrambled and pulled together in the last few days to keep the business of the department and research labs going during these crazy times and supporting the faculty and students in “the Great Instant Social Distancing Experiment.” Thank you! We cannot do what we do without you, and this will be especially true in the next few weeks (or more). Please telecommute when possible; the health and safety of you and your families should be prioritized. The faculty will find you (and you, us!) on email and in our new Slack workspace or on the phone. Let us know how we can help you do what you do during this time. A tiny note, I almost hate to mention it: Because our travel to conferences and meetings and to give lectures is cancelled for the next month or two, faculty will have more time to, um, write grant proposals. So, you *might* see a teeny-tiny uptick in the number of outgoing proposals during this time. We pledge to give you proper advance notice of said proposals so you can plan and prioritize (right, Faculty?)!
I’m super proud of the way you’ve all pulled together and quickly rallied over the last few days in response to the University’s decision to move all courses online and cancel or restructure events. I know how much work this is, even for those of you who already use online course management tools. Figuring out how to put lectures online, whether pre-recorded or streamed, and make them effective is nontrivial, even in the best of circumstances. Doing it with four days notice is especially stressful. Please do not strive for perfection – you will not achieve it, and no one expects it. This is not the time to research and experiment with best practices in online education – we’re in triage mode! Remember that perfection is the enemy of good. You will make mistakes, there will be hiccups, there will be unanticipated consequences and surprises, and that’s perfectly ok. We’ll fix them together. It’s all good. Remember: what does not kill you makes you stronger (say out loud in Johannes Schwank’s / Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice).
Mental health is as important as physical health. Our social lives are being severely upended along with the disruption to classes and research and everyday work. We cannot ignore our needs as human beings for social interaction. Let’s all remember to pay attention to our emotional wellbeing as well as staying physically healthy (and remember technology can also be used to connect beyond educational needs!). Spring is coming.
We’re all in this together, and together we will do our part to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. I could not imagine a better family of students, staff and faculty to be on this adventure with!
Sharon C. Glotzer
Anthony C. Lembke Department Chair of Chemical Engineering