10 Simple Rules for surviving grad school during COVID-19

In an attempt at humor in this stressful time I have decided to take a stab at the PLOS Computational Biology “10 simple rules” for this blog. The 10 simple rules collection was started in 2005 with the article “10 simple rules for getting published”[1]. Since then it has grown to a Quick Tips section in the journal and has covered many topics relevant to academics in all career stages. I have found the collection to be a valuable starting place for seeking advice on most aspects of graduate school and academia: writing, presenting, job applications, grant applications, designing research projects, etc. I highly  recommend many of these articles to anyone who comes to me for advice or to talk about graduate school life. With that being said here is my 10 simple rules for surviving grad school during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

  1. Bourne PE, Lewitter F, Markel S, Papin JA (2018) One thousand simple rules. PLoS Comput Biol 14(12): e1006670. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006670

Rule 1 Wash your hands

Why soap works against the coronavirus from coolguides

Really the infographic says it all but remember that CDC guidelines recommend washing your hands for 20 seconds before rinsing them off with water. You should wash your hands much more often than normal in times of viral disease circulation.

Rule 2 Check your webcam and microphone status before any virtual meetings

In general double checking your technology before presenting live is always a good habit. If you are helping coordinate a class online you have my well wishes, be patient it will all work out eventually (or it will be over and forgotten).

Rule 3 Practice social distancing

Don’t go out to eat or drink in public. VT has cancelled most public events and recent guidance from the CDC has suggested avoiding crowds of more than 50 people. The goal of social distancing is to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent our medical infrastructure from being overwhelmed.

Rule 4 Check out academic social media – for solidarity and a laugh

During this time it is very easy to feel overly isolated from your colleagues. As easy as it is for me to say that I miss you and that you are definitely missed, it is understandable to feel like you are alone and far removed from the academic community (even if you are still on campus). I like @AcadmicsSay because their posts are by real academics about normal life and are really relatable and fun. The point of the exercise is not to follow academic social media but instead to find a way to reengage with the community that has been altered in recent days.

Rule 5 Find out what this means for your specific situation

The past few days has been crazy with regards to the many surprising changes at the university, state, and federal level. Since the situation is still developing changes are guaranteed. Follow VT’s COVID-19 page for updates related to VT and have an open conversation with your faculty advisor about what their exceptions are for you. Make sure you understand what is being asked of you and that you are comfortable with all of the expectations.

Rule 6 Stay hydrated and well rested

All of the change and uncertainty creates an environment ripe for stress and anxiety. Stress can impair your immune function and make you more susceptible to disease. To counter the effects of stress make sure you are sleeping enough (8 hours a night is recommended by experts) and staying hydrated (typically drinking at least 64 oz ~1.9 liters). If you are able spend some time outside relaxing or taking walks. Fresh air and sunlight can improve your mood, reduce stress levels, and staying active can boost your immune system. Basically take time for yourself during this period.

Rule 7 Keep writing

While taking time for yourself also remember to get your work done. Most programs require some form of writing for completion of your degree program. Writing is an excellent activity for academics practicing social distancing during a pandemic. If you are in need of something to write feel free to reach out to me to help with my writing list.

Rule 8 Don’t hoard supplies

The news has been full of stories of shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and cleaning agents. Most of these shortages are a direct result of panic buying and have resulted in some people- typically vulnerable populations- not being able to get needed household items. In keeping with the mindset that We are All Hokies  we should remember that We are All Humans and act in the best interest of the community not ourselves.

Rule 9 Don’t touch your face

Again going back to protecting yourself, remember to wash your hands and don’t touch your face (eyes, nose, mouth). Your face is the main entrance site for this virus to get into your body. If you are washing your hands often the risk of accidentally catching the virus by touching your face is minimized but still try not to do it.

Rule 10 Remember this isn’t going to be forever

As unsettling a time as it currently is eventually our lives will return to normal. Remember to take care of yourself and to teat everyone as you want to be treated. If we all remember that the crisis should blow over sooner rather than later.


This is not designed to be a comprehensive guide but to promote a sense of solidarity among graduate students, especially at VT. I hope you got a chuckle out of this at least.  Stay healthy everyone!


I’m not sure I want to adopt CBL/PBL to my classroom

We talked about case based learning (CBL) and problem/project based learning (PBL) in class this week. I am torn about whether or not I will adopt CBL/PBL for my future classroom. I like the idea of having students take charge of their own learning through cases or projects. I am strongly concerned about the amount of work it takes to complete a good CBL/PBL assignment. Most CBL/PBL classes require a flipped style where students read or watch videos outside of class and prepare for the in class case assignment. If students are taking many classes in a flipped format I worry that they will have to spend an inordinate amount of time outside of class teaching themselves how their class material.

Additionally, the instructor needs to find and alter cases for use in the class, or just make their own from scratch. I have been looking and it I have not been able to find any case studies that could be used for the introduction to animal science courses that I work with.  Instead I think that I want to implement a the POGIL (Process oriented guided inquiry learning) activities for an introductory level course instead of a CBL assignment. One of the purposes of POGIL is to introduce students to course content and have them develop their own understanding of some key concepts. I think it would be best to supplement the POGIL lessons with reading assignments after the fact and some guest lectures to expose students to more content. I would like to develop some problem solving problems for exams or writing assignments for the same class such as having students to identify a problem on a farm from a background story containing some specific details. I don’t think of these as “real” CBL assignments though.

As far as teaching advanced classes I would be intrigued to try to include some CBL/PBL assignments – especially to try to have students connect concepts from prerequisite courses to new material in the course. For example in a Poultry Nutrition course I worked with previously Biochemistry is required. Students are expected to understand how the major macro-molecules (Carbohydrates, Lipids, Proteins) are broken down in the body and in Poultry Nutrition we teach students what to feed chickens to meet the specific nutrient requirements utilizing those pathways. There are available case studies on the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science  that could be modified for use in my Poultry Nutrition class.

I guess I am open to working with CBL/PBL in my classes but I will never teach a Case Based/Problem based class.