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My Journey of Transition During the Pandemic

Region II Graduate New Professional Undergraduate
November 23, 2020 Britt Spears Association of American Colleges and Universities

In late February I accepted a job offer working with an assessment program for a higher education association. Although my previous role was in student involvement, research and assessment has always been a high interest for me and I have incorporated it in my professional journey since grad school. I am now wrapping up my first six months in my new role and I am in a much better headspace. However, the transition has been a bit rocky due to some unforeseen effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-March I took my personal belongings home due to spring break being the next week and my plans to not be in the office. Later that evening I got an email saying that campus would be closed the following day as well as throughout the next week due to the spread of COVID in our area. I completed my last week of work virtually and no one reached out to collect office supplies or reschedule my exit interview. I understand that this was mostly circumstantial, but I believe that at some point over the last six months there was at least one opportunity for my previous employer to reach out.

Luckily, I was in contact with my new employer and I was happy to hear that they still intended to bring me on and that we would be working remotely for no more than a couple of weeks, so we thought. I was so nervous that I would not have a job pending whatever was to come during the pandemic. I was confident with the opportunity to learn new things and finally go into the office. Unfortunately, I found out that we would not be returning to the office until January 2021 at the earliest.

Working Remotely
Although I am still young in the field, this is the first time since 2012 that I have not reported to a campus. Growing up, I remember my mother spending countless hours in her home office but I never thought this would be my life. Over the last several months, my partner and I have created space for my home office, which is not something we planned to do when we moved. I have also run into the issue of staying motivated. It is incredibly hard to be in this new working environment with the bed, the kitchen, and the TV just steps away from you.

Building Relationships with Colleagues
The first and only time I was in my office building was at my interview. No welcome breakfast, no team lunch, no ice breakers at staff meetings. I was introduced via email during my first week but it was not until a couple of weeks ago when I attended a Zoom session where I got to see about a third of my colleagues. My direct team meets weekly over Zoom, but it’s just not the same. Often when I email people, I have to CC my supervisor so that people will pay attention to it which is unfortunately something that new professionals have to do regardless of the circumstances surrounding their onboarding. I am hopeful this will change as we acclimate to our new work format.

As I am able to comb through data, read necessary literature, and communicate with my colleagues, I am beginning to see things with more rose-colored glasses! There is still some precariousness surrounding my role, but my supervisor has been extremely supportive and we are working through it.

Tips that I would give folks who are in a similar predicament would be:
• Make a daily schedule...and stick to it! Although it may be difficult, try to keep the same morale as if you were in the office.
• If you have kids in your home that require assistance with virtual learning, work with your
supervisor to come up with a plan that will support you personally and professionally.
• Move around! A pre-COVID work day included taking breaks and sometimes just not looking at a screen(s). Do the same thing at home whether it be gazing outside or taking a 5-10-minute break.
• Find your support system! This can be a mix of friends, family, fellow HESA pros, or whoever can help you get through the day and get things done. My household has chosen to include additional people in our pod. We primarily gather with a group of no more than 10 people and it is usually outside or where we can be spaced out. I know this may be on the riskier side so do what works for you! I also started virtual movie nights with a mix of family and friends. As someone who lives 1,000 miles away from home, it has been hard to find my tribe. Suggestions that have worked for me specifically during the pandemic are:
oThe Meetup app
o Facebook groups
o Black Girls Ru

I am hopeful and with each week I am connecting more dots and gaining the knowledge necessary to feel like a strong contributor to the work my office does. If you are in a similar situation, I would advise you to keep pushing towards positivity. I did not write this to display a fairytale of my new professional experience. I wrote this to share the truth and how transitioning during the pandemic has been murky at best. Although it has been rough, life goes on even with the uncertainty of work environments and what the world will learn from the impact of COVID-19. Take care of yourself and know that we are all in this together.