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From the College of Natural Sciences

Reflections at the End of an Unusual Work Week

Dean Goldbart sent a message to all faculty and staff after the first full work week after the University's emergency closure due to COVID-19 on Friday, March 13.

​Even as someone who has been a part of the UT Austin College of Natural Sciences community for only some twenty months, I love working here. With many of you, I have found it a place that gives me purpose, where I feel I can contribute to the world, and where I can (I hope!) do something of value. 

Even as I feel, as we all at some level do, anxious about what's unfolding across the globe and concerned about the health and well-being of family, friends, colleagues, and people everywhere, I feel this sense of purpose, and I hope you do, too. 

At work, many of us right now are justifiably disappointed about events postponed, research and projects delayed, and educational experiences reshaped. Things we've prepared diligently for now must be put on hold, and we're suddenly grappling with improvising to turn our homes – our places of rest, relaxation, and refuge – into places for childcare and learning, e-meetings and administration, student instruction and advising, research, writing, and more. (We may love to be in our homes, but perhaps not for this long or for these purposes.)

Nevertheless, in this strangest of times, as the world learns to outfox one of nature's most artful combatants in the coronavirus, I feel comforted to be a part of a community that comprises and supports experts. These are the people among us – the tip of the knowledge spear – who devote their full energy to advancing humankind's deepest understanding of the natural world and developing our most powerful capabilities for managing it. 

Let me single out two experts of many: Lauren Ancel Myers and Jason McLellan. Lauren's group uncovers how pandemics spread – essential, if we are to predict the pressures on hospitals and how best toflatten the curve. Jason's team has revealed the structure of the virus' dagger, pointing a beacon towards the vaccine that will one day shield us. And we, the CNS community, are a vital part of these efforts. So I hope you, too, feel a sense of connection (and even a little pride!). There is, of course, much work to be done. But it's communities like ours around the world who are contributing greatly to that work. 

In addition to providing us with purpose, income, and benefits, work also offers social value: we are a community that does more than transact. That was clear to me this year, as the kindness of our UT community comforted me through the process of grieving the recent death of my beloved father. We are a web of shared stories – some happy, some sad – through which we understand and support one another. 

This social virtue of the workplace needn't come to a standstill just because we have become physically distant from one another for a time. In that regard, I have taken a page from our colleagues in the Moody College of Communications, and suggested a new Facebook group especially for employees of this college, both staff and faculty.

Let me also gently encourage us all to look creatively for ways to maintain and amplify this social aspect of the workplace by harnessing technologies provided by the scientists and mathematicians who went before us. Linger a while on the phone. Get together for an e-lunch on Zoom. Engage as we usually do at work. Enrich the Fort-e Acres (oh, that's terrible!). I'm confident that we shall all be healthier, stronger, and better supported if we do. 

I'll close with a simple but heartfelt thank you. I don't think I need to explain what for.

An image of the Life Science Library in the UT Tower can be found on the College's Facebook group page for staff and faculty.
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Sunday, 26 September 2021

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