For any recently hired faculty member, adjusting to a completely new work environment and connecting with their department and students are never easy tasks. And for anyone hired within the last year and a half, this transition has been made even more challenging by the pandemic, which has necessitated Zoom classes and limited opportunities for faculty to get to know their colleagues.
Assistant Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Malik Boykin, who was hired as a faculty member July 2020, said that because he is not physically in Providence, he feels disconnected from the University.
While still a postdoctoral student in spring 2020, Boykin taught a course that was interrupted by COVID-19. Since then, he has continued to teach remotely. Currently in California, Boykin stays connected with students through his lab’s weekly meetings. Still, he said that he doesn’t feel like a “real faculty member.”
“I’ve gotten so accustomed to being (somewhere) else that I still feel like a remote research professor that works at Brown,” Boykin said.
Because of his remote status, Boykin has shifted the focus of his research from the role race plays in virtual spaces to algorithmic bias, since his initial topic became much more difficult to study while virtual.
“I’m going to be a different researcher on the other side of this than I thought I was going to be on the way into it,” Boykin said.
Dean’s Assistant Professor of Nuclear Security and Policy and Political Science Reid Pauly, who was hired fall 2020, said he benefited from the Sheridan Center’s Anchor Program on virtual pedagogy in his transition to the University. The Anchor Program is taught by Brown experts and faculty facilitators who teach instructors about evidence-based practices for teaching fully online and remotely.
“It was certainly a challenge to arrive at Brown during the pandemic and dive into virtual teaching,” Pauly wrote in an email to The Herald. “Fortunately, the students had a positive ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude that made even online learning feel personal.”
During the 2020-21 academic year, department chairs were urged to connect with new colleagues virtually and try to integrate them into their respective departments, Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin wrote in an email to The Herald.
“There was very limited opportunity to bring new faculty together,” McLaughlin said. “I do believe that the individual departments were very good about forming relationships with and assisting with the transition of new faculty to their communities.”
This fall, the University organized an in-person event introducing the new faculty to a range of offices and administrators on campus. The same event was conducted remotely in fall 2020. In addition, faculty hired this past academic year were invited to an in-person reception this semester with department chairs at the home of President Christina Paxson P’19.
The University hopes it can make up for the gap in social contact caused by the pandemic now that more in-person events are able to take place on campus, McLaughlin wrote.
For Professor of Engineering Linda Abriola, who was hired this fall, teaching during the pandemic posed various challenges, including being unable to meet her postdoctoral student for eight months. Abriola is now grateful to be able to meet her colleagues through in-person events like the School of Engineering’s “social lunches.”
“I am so grateful to be able to meet people in person now and to be on campus,” Abriola wrote in an email to The Herald.
Because he is teaching remotely, Boykin hasn’t been able to participate in any new faculty mixers or meet students in person. Although he has been physically away from campus because of the pandemic, Boykin said he still feels very supported by the University community.
“I’ve got good people looking out for me at various tiers of the organization,” Boykin said. “From my department all the way up to the provost.”