Faculty Open Up About Mental Health Under the COVID-19 Pandemic

Michelle O’Malley and Matthew Helgeson, chemical engineering faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara, are still adjusting to life under the coronavirus pandemic.

For the married professors, this means running their respective research groups from home while also taking care of their almost-3-year-old son. Elliott, like most preschoolers, needs constant attention. Except during nap time. That 2 h stretch about every other day is the only time that they can count on getting work done. “That’s essentially where we are, as sad as that is,” O’Malley says with a rueful laugh. “We pack Zoom meetings into nap time and hope for the best.”

In between virtual group meetings and checking in with students, they try to analyze data or edit manuscripts, which are now their only options to move research forward. With lab experiments on hold indefinitely and grant managers asking how they’re using the time, O’Malley is anxious about the possibility of losing grants that support trainees. “That keeps me up at night a lot.”

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