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From the Desk: Reconnecting, rebuilding community

Many of us had a tough time staying connected with our Indiana University research communities starting in March 2020.

While some activities stayed at or came back to “near normal” more than others, in many areas, we’ve missed the energy that comes from working and socializing together.

Kosali Simon. Kosali Simon.And we are not alone. Research shows we feel this way across the nation’s campuses. Some feel disconnected, are not sure how best to re-engage and may feel less confident in the risk-taking required to re-enter the communal research process after a lengthy period of relative isolation.

For example, I am about to go next week to one of my first in-person conferences after a long time, and I find myself wondering what it will be like!

My colleagues across the university and I have brainstormed some ideas for this summer in an attempt to create structured engagements to foster learning, collaboration and community as we move forward in these challenging COVID-era times.

These plans create an interactive (and safe) summer research experience for Ph.D. students and faculty. Our goal is to:

  • Help us articulate our summer research ambitions, forming into groups that will give feedback and form collaborations.
  • Normalize working on campus again and figuring out space needs for everyone to feel comfortable and safe (for those who can be on campus).
  • Foster a virtual social space for staying in touch (e.g. Slack, with separate channels for specific research sub-groups) and coordinating research projects (e.g. Trello). E-tools like these were very helpful for workflow and help avoid the more formal nature of email and delays in synchronous zoom scheduling.

As part of our efforts, we created a Google Sheet where faculty and students shared where and when they planned to be engaged in research, to help connect those in the building at the same time. The hope is that when you know who is around and can plan a lunch group walk or brownbag lunch presentations or simply stop by and say hello.

A summer journal club will meet for five walks around five sets of social equity research topics.... A summer journal club will meet for five walks around five sets of social equity research topics. Photo courtesy of Kosali SimonAdditionally, we also set up a five-week countdown to summer, with five separate weeks of themes for professional development including conference; workflow/reproducibility; building your scholarly portfolio; research communication/presentation skills; and support and being supported.

To ensure we are taking the time to connect around research while socializing outdoors, we started a summer journal club, which will meet for five long walks around five sets of social equity research topics. In our first one, we walked from one end of campus to Hartzell’s, stopping for a photo opportunity by Sample Gates.

We are hopeful the ideas we have been trying out will help colleagues across IU as they think of ways to create an inclusive and productive culture for their own settings, for all levels of scholars. The people are what make this university so special.

And while the past two years have been challenging for us all, we look forward to doubling our efforts to help ourselves, our students, faculty and everyone reconnect more as the university moves forward into the 2022-23 academic year.

Kosali Simon is a Distinguished Professor, Herman B Wells Endowed Professor, Paul O’Neill Chair and Associate Vice Provost for Health Sciences.