Connecting during COVID-19: Updates from the (physically but not socially distanced) Early Career Scientist Board

1 July 2020 | By

Participants of the first fully-virtual ATLAS Meet & Eat event!

The times we are living in bring new challenges for all. As a community, we need to stay in contact, remain motivated and learn from each other's experiences. The work-from-home situation is one to which everyone has to adjust, balancing personal and professional lives, while accepting the effect of the ongoing pandemic on society. Despite these challenges, the ATLAS Early Career Scientist Board (ECSB) developed a series of events to boost the morale of the ECS community and to help people connect, even when they are sitting miles away from each other. I joined the ATLAS ECSB in March 2020, and to be honest, it has felt great to be a part of something that makes a difference in people’s lives – even if it’s just to laugh together.

Following the success of the informal Meet & Eat events, we held a special virtual edition of the Meet & Eat event during the weeks of 13 to 24 April 2020. As in previous editions (read Luigi’s blog about the winter events), we paired PhD students and junior postdoctoral fellows with more senior postdoctoral fellows and faculty in the collaboration so they can have a chat. But this time the pairs were asked to meet up over video messengers instead of the usual face-to-face lunch meetings at CERN.

Over the two weeks, 32 junior–senior pairs met up to share their experiences with each other or just to have a friendly chat with someone they wouldn’t have met otherwise. Humans are social beings by design – a fact that was further proven by the positive feedback for the Virtual Meet & Eat event we received, along with suggestions to improve the upcoming versions.

Alongside the ATLAS Meet & Eat event, the Young Scientists Fora at the LHC (early career scientist boards from ATLAS, CMS, ALICE & LHCb) joined forces to organise a series of networking/soft skills workshops, with each event focusing on different career development skills.

Given the current COVID-19 situation, the first soft-skills workshop of the year was on the topic of working from home. On 15 April 2020, over 200 participants connected via a video messenger to share experiences and tips for getting the most out of the present working-from-home situation. The event started with a short introduction, followed by a roundtable session with speakers invited from different groups and projects, including Women in Technology, the #PhysicistsAtHome social campaign and the LHCb/ALICE Starterkit initiative. They shared their tips for being productive while working from home, and how they are balancing their personal and professional lives during these difficult times. Presentations were followed by fruitful discussion among speakers and participants. The event was well received by the LHC community in general and motivated the effort to brainstorm ideas for future networking events.

“I really enjoyed hearing everyone's advice for working from home during the networking event. My favorite piece of advice was to try to end your work for the day on a 'high note', so that it is easier to get started the next day!” – Emily Anne Thompson

“If possible, choose a place to work at home, and do nothing there but work. This could be a certain table or corner of a room.” – Rebecca Gonzalez Suarez

Since joining ECSB, I have had the chance to see the collaboration from an altogether different perspective. It is a booming community of brilliant minds, where social interactions are a necessary part of the research. The recent ECSB events have not only helped people develop necessary skills for career advancement, they have also helped people connect with one another despite the distance. Organising them was truly worth the effort! I personally enjoyed participating in both, and learnt a lot about how to deal with all the associated issues that one might be facing during such extraordinary times. One thing is for sure, no matter the circumstances, we will get through them together!