I’ve been reading more and more ‘Smarter Living’ from the New York Times, because, frankly, I need some positivity these days.
Reading these articles focused on balancing habits and emotional health, I realized graduate students are experts at all these life hacks, or at least, try to be. We already have super unpredictable schedules, following plants or cultures or trying to use the super computers on “off hours” (aka late at night and weekends). I sent two emails this past Saturday around 6 pm, and got responses back within half an hour for both. We already spend a good deal of time working at home, in coffee shops, and with little supervision. We have to wake up on time for ourselves and make good habits on our own. Many of us spend most of our time on our own, but gain energy from working with others. We collaborate on large projects, and enjoy meaningful nerdy conversations about implementing phylogenetic tree building programs, generalized mixed models, and culturing techniques. We make time for people, plan brunches, start our own game night, and offer to host lab parties. We make time to stay in touch with old friends and catch up with our families, try new dishes and create a nice home. Otherwise, we end up staring at our computer 24/7, feeling burnt out and alone. We basically need a lot of will power to make good choices and be the best we can. Still, all this at home time is challenging us.
Many of us have some practice with lots of at home work time. During my ten months in Ecuador last year, my husband joined me for the last six months. We moved from a three-bedroom house with a yard in Lawrence, Kansas to a small apartment in the capital of Ecuador, Quito. We did a lot of remote work at home, and saw a little too much of each other. We stopped asking ‘how was your day?’ because we had spent literally the entire day together. Even after that, the current situation is a challenge. And, we are both essential workers; one of us maintaining live organisms, the other working at a community health center. Even with some time away from each other, we have a LOT of quality time together. For us, creating different spaces (office turns into gym area, reading in different rooms) and going outside (thank goodness it’s getting nicer!) are really important.
What does this have to do with Earth day?
Although my husband and I thought we were model citizens in terms of doing our best to reduce waste, during these times of shelter in place, we are still seeing the massive wastes we can avoid. We live a mile or two from work. Work from home. We compost and recycle; we bring our own vegetable bags to the grocery store. We garden and spend time outside. We’re vegetarians, mostly. We donate whenever we can instead of throwing everything out. We try to Marie Kondo our purchasing- Do we love this? Do we need this? Still, we travel quite a bit, and let ourselves drive half an hour to an outlet on occasion. The passenger next to me on a flight to Panama this January asked me if I travelled a lot. My answer: “No, not that much, maybe 6 times a year?”. His reaction was, “Wow, that’s a lot”. The bottom line: although we try, there’s definitely room to improve.
We used just under a tank of gas in this past month (around 6 gallons). We thought we used the car sparingly before, but apparently not. Things take forever to ship on Amazon, so we’re finding things we already have to reuse. For example, we were going to try to get some scratch rugs to add to our cat tower, but wanted it now (not three or four weeks from now). Then, we remembered we had removed the twine from another cat tower and fished it out of the garage to update the tower ourselves for $0 and just under half an hour. We wanted to use one of our raised beds to plant some vegetables, but bulk topsoil orders were a minimum over $100, so we dug out the bottom of our compost we’d been working on for a few years. We ran out of paper bags for the recycling, so we just dumped the contents into the outside bin and reused the paper bags.
Overall, this experience is challenging our abilities to be positive, productive, and motivated, while reducing our impact on earth. I don’t think these goals are disconnected. Doing the right thing, always improving, and being who you want to be go hand in hand. I know I’ll keep traveling after this is over, but some small accumulating changes will likely stay, and that’s a good thing. No one is perfect, but there’s always room for improvement. Something graduate students know all too well. Most of us in academia are extremely fortunate; we still have work to do, we still have colleagues to work with, and we still have a paycheck coming in. Let’s do our best to be the best version of ourselves we can during and after this challenging time. For our health, for our Earth.