A month and a half of working from home. What’s going well, and what isn’t?

Panel member Frank van Rijnsoever (upper row, second from the left) in a virtual get-together. His own photo

What are all these faces saying, when they’re transmitting into our rooms through Teams, Zoom, or other videoconferencing apps? The fragments of interiors we get to see, comfort us a little. Everyone seems to have found safe refuge since the coronavirus broke out. But beyond that, how are the students and teachers doing during this intelligent lockdown? We asked the members of our DUB panel about the ups and downs, and received eleven responses. Based on those emails, we created the list below.

1. You do more

Although the university is warning students and employees that they shouldn’t work too hard, and should give each other a break sometimes, none of our panel members complain about their workloads. Quite the opposite, in fact: some panel members seem to be quite satisfied that they can finally finish jobs without any interruptions. Less travel time, fewer meetings, fewer conferences, it all helps

“I’m working on a digital text edition of a Middle Dutch Arthur novel, and I’m now able to work on this for a full morning or afternoon without issue, without other tasks,” says literary scientist Frank Brandsma.

Frank van Rijnsoever, innovation scientist, writes: “There’s no distraction from colleagues and students passing by, and our online meetings are all a lot shorter. I don’t have a family, so I can fully focus on my research and education.”

2. Online education is going well

Of course, some people complain, but in general, there’s a sense that students and teachers alike have quickly gotten used to online education. Several of our panel members mentioned this as a plus.

“One pleasant aspect is that the university exceeded expectations in how it handled online education,” says Djoeke Wijbenga, student of Pedagogical Science.

Cultural geographer Bouke van Gorp had to create knowledge clips and wondered whether she’d be able to figure out the technology for it. “I’d done it before and knew how time-consuming it was. But I managed just fine.”

Environmental philosopher Floris van den Berg sees that the students he’s guiding in writing their theses don’t seem to struggle much with the switch-over. “During online group meetings, they listen to each other, and give each other constructive criticism.”

marthe.jpgPanel member Marthe Vroom behind her laptop, currently in her father’s home.

3. You settle down, and find time for other things

This is an advantage several students mention. At the same time, they often mention that there’s a danger of having too many distractions, and you’re only busy with new or recently re-discovered hobbies.

“I’m making music again, I’m working on my bike – in other words, I’m doing things I never got around to doing before,” says medicine student Thomas Visser. Student of Pedagogical Science Djoeke Wijbenga says: “I finally have time for those odd jobs I never have time for otherwise.”

Leonie Schiphorst, student of Educational Science, emails: “At home, you’re a lot more flexible, you can go for a quick trip to the grocery store when you’ve got a break. You no longer have to run from meeting to meeting – one click, and you’re there.”

4. Everyone is nice to each other

Some DUB panel members say that within our university, we really are looking out for each other in the way the government wants us to; there’s a lot of contact among peers, and even fun-at-a-distance.

“People are so kind during our coffee chats via Microsoft Teams,” says Fiona van ‘t Hullenaar, director of Corporate Real Estate & Campus. Every two weeks, Van ‘t Hullenaar creates an actual postcard for her employees with a personal text on it, and writes a blog filled with information and uplifting texts. “The conversations we’re having are more personal, it’s very special. Some colleagues are sending around children’s drawings.”

Analyst Mies van Steenbergen has also noticed that there’s not a lot of loneliness, thanks to the many contacts. “Lots of WhatsApp chats with fellow analysts (mostly nonsense), and then one-on-one calls. Mentally, things are fine, also thanks to the regular team meetings and the weekly scientific lectures. And there are virtual drinks every Friday afternoon.”

1. It’s hard to concentrate and motivate yourself

Oh, how students miss the University Library as a place to study. At home, it’s much harder to push yourself to work. Especially when you’re easily distracted by housemates or family members.

“Visiting the university library felt like an invisible bridge to productivity,” writes medicine student Thomas Visser. “Once I’d crossed it, my day would be fine.”

Djoeke Wijbenga is also sorely missing the ‘study spots’ in the university and its library. “There’s a lot of distraction from my family members. Everyone is currently working from home most of the time.”

Leonie Schiphorst, student of Educational Science: “In my student home, it’s quite a challenge to study. A lot of housemates aren’t as busy as they usually are with work or studies, so it’s very tempting to hang out and have fun in the kitchen until late at night.”

But it’s not just the students. Analyst Mies van Steenbergen is also struggling: “In the David de Wied building, where I work, we never see anything of what’s going on outside, so nice weather isn’t distracting. At home, I immediately see the sun. On a normal workday, I walk 10,000 steps. I don’t even get anywhere close to that figure now.”

2. People are missing real classes

Some things are lost in video classes, some teachers in our panel think. Exclusively online classes should not become the norm, they say

“I miss the theatrical aspects of teaching,” says environmental philosopher Floris van den Berg. “As a teacher, you kind of go on stage, with an audience (and applause). Now, I’m sitting at my desk, deliberating against my screen.”

Cultural geographer Bouke van Gorp: “What I miss about the lectures and classes is having a moment of contact with the students in the course, and the chats surrounding the classes.”

3. No familiar friendliness and daily routines

That train commute or bicycle ride you used to clear your head, and that fellow student or colleague you could always joke around with. Our panel members had never realised quite so starkly that they would come to miss that.

“The lack of human interaction,” is something innovation scientist Frank van Rijnsoever struggles with. “It gets boring sometimes. And it’s useful to talk things out face to face. Now, drinks with colleagues are held online every week. Still fun, but different.”

Literary scientist Frank Brandsma: “Although I regularly worked from home before this, I now find myself missing the daily commute to Utrecht and the Trans building more than I’d expected: the train from Culemborg, the walk through Hoog Catharijne and the Steenweg in the direction of the Dom church. I’m only now noticing how much positive energy that gave me.”

Student of educational science Leonie Schiphorst: “I’m now realising how nice it is to cycle to De Uithof, to work together face to face, and to be able to visit teachers, and finally, leave all the work behind me when I get home. Now, everything is blending together, and I feel like I work much longer hours.”

4. The exhaustion of working through a screen

Here and there, more and more complaints are heard from students and teachers alike, who are getting sick of Zooming. Video conferencing is ‘very bad virtual reality’ in which you’re constantly in two worlds simultaneously, said professor Stefan van der Stigchel in De Volkskrant. Two panel members also pointed this out.

“It costs much more energy than I thought, doing everything online, because it takes more effort to understand each other and to respond at the right moment,” writes Leonie Schiphorst. For Fiona van ‘t Hullenaar, video conferencing is even worse. She’s visually impaired. “It’s a complicated logistical tour de force to work around my disability. Excruciatingly exhausting.”

5. Delays in research

As most labs are closed, and with the many restrictions from the corona measures for research with test subjects, many students and researchers are stuck, not knowing what to do. Delays and postponements of their research seem likely. Panel member Eise Nota, law student, mentions the frustrations.

Nota graduated from his Bachelor in February, and will start his Master’s in September. He wants to turn his Bachelor’s thesis into a publication, and that takes some additional work. “I couldn’t do my research from home. I did manage to find a solution, but it did result in some heavy delays.”

6. Isolation by yourself

A lot of students and young scientists aren’t seeing many other people right now. Students often choose to spend longer periods of time at their parents’ home. They’re studying from all over the country. That takes some adjusting.

Student of Social Geography & Planning Marthe Vroom emails: “I’m currently staying with my father in Bergen, Noord-Holland, and before that, I was with my aunt. In Utrecht, I live in a studio. Living on my own is usually fine because I saw other people every day. Now, that’s different, and that’s why I’m with my family now. Studying, my work as member of the faculty council, and being a student assistant, it’s all still continuing. That can be tricky, but at the same time, it’s a welcome distraction.”