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A short simulation of normalcy (#1184)

Topics/tags: Academia

Like, well, everyone else, I’ve found work life in a pandemic different. At Grinnell, some things are getting closer to normal. For example, we once again have in-person classes, and we have had them all year. We’re also back to semesters after the accelerated horror of terms. Of course, students are masked and I have a rotating cast of students who are in isolation. But it’s closer to normal, at least in that sense.

My professional service also doesn’t feel much different. It’s conducted online, but much of it has always been conducted remotely. Perhaps I’m more adept at it than I was a few years ago, but meeting online is meeting online, and meeting online is necessary when participants are physically distant.

The rest of my job feels a lot different [1]. One of the best parts of being a faculty member is the people. And I see people at places like talks and meetings and the lunchroom. And, well, faculty meetings are online, talks are too [2], and faculty and staff have been banned from the Marketplace. So I don’t get the opportunity for those quick greetings and comments that happen at such places. I also prefer in-person talks because I feel more engaged.

So today felt special. When the Campus Memo came out [3], I saw that a department was hosting what sounded like an interesting talk today [4]. I rearranged my schedule to attend. It was, indeed, a good talk. Perhaps even a great one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly well attended: A few students, a few faculty from the hosting department, someone videotaping, and me. But it was great to chat with colleagues.

I’d also forgotten how nice live, in-person talks are; I don’t feel like it would have been the same remotely [5]. Seeing the whole person and not just a talking head also makes the talk better. I even got to ask a question and make a funny comment [6]. It was special.

Perhaps we can soon return to the days in which such experiences are normal, rather than special.

I wish I were more optimistic about that soon part.

[1] Teaching does, too, in case that wasn’t clear.

[2] For some reason, Grinnell generally doesn’t permit side chats at talks.

[3] The electronic version, which is not as much fun as the goldenrod memo or its calendar-like predecessor.

[4] Nope, I’m not saying which one. If you figure it out, you’ll understand why.

[5] Virtually, in current SIGCSE parlance.

[6] At least I thought it was funny.

Version 1.0 of 2022-02-16.