Effects of Corona on science and research: How is the situation at the University of Notre Dame (USA)?

Dr Katharina Kraus, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame (USA)


What are the major changes in your job due to the Corona situation?

Due to the US travel ban on European countries, which hit me by surprise during my spring break trip to Paris in March 2020, I was not able to travel back to the US and return to my workplace at the University of Notre Dame. At the same time, my university switched to online teaching so that I have been teaching from Europe since then. We are currently staying in my family's home in southwestern Germany.

The major change in my job routines was then the switch in the middle of the semester to teaching the rest of the schedule in an online format. We got an extra week of spring break to make this transition and to rethink our teaching methods and assignments to make them fit for an online version. Moreover, the university has cancelled all international and domestic travels for the faculty, and most of my research conferences have been cancelled for the summer. But some organizers are seeking to offer online versions of their meetings, whereas others have postponed the conferences until further notice.

How does Covid-19 affect your work with your international partners, students and staff?

In my classes, I have international students from all over the world, especially India and China. All the students had to move out of their dorms and were asked to return to their families. This was obviously challenging for many of the oversea students, especially those from China, who were then offered to stay in the university-own campus hotel. Moreover, the US students are now scattered over three time zones, and the international students even further. This makes coordination often difficult, especially since I am still mainly working with synchronous Zoom class meetings. Some of the students were not able to attend those and therefore had to rely on asynchronous recordings of the meetings.

Everyone is talking about the negative effects of the Covid-19 situation. But, what are the positive effects? Are there any?

I assume that there will be a major push for online teaching methods and for the digitalization of the universities. However, I also heard many critical voices with regard to online teaching. I don't think that it will replace the in-person interaction with teaching staff, or even having a personalized teaching staff at all. But it will certainly accelerate an interesting development that was already partially under way.

How does the future look like? What are your hopes? What are you wishing for? 

I hope that universities and academics make more use of digital methods, where it can really be an advantage, but don't "over-digitalize", on the other hand, in matters where it is not properly suitable. Academics tend to travel a lot around the globe – a trend that in times of climate change needs serious rethinking. Perhaps there might be a future trend towards online meetings, which would spare a lot of travels, money, and fuel. However, it is necessary– once in a while –to physically meet with colleagues from all over the place in order to be in proper tough and perhaps more productive and creative in pursuing collaborations and in one's own research.