The Bright Side of Isolation

A few positive aspects of social distancing
MAY 2020
Shashank
A.
Mechanical Engineering

Being a graduate student whose work mostly takes place on a PC, the changes in MIT policies related to COVID-19 have not impacted my academic work by a large amount so far. On the other hand, the social impact of it has been much more profound. From an exponential increase in the discussions (mostly about COVID-19) with my family and friends back home (in India) to an increased interest in House-MD and use of UberEats and my kitchen, my lifestyle has drastically changed during the past few weeks. In this post, I am going to touch upon a few aspects of my experiences in the last few months of COVID-19.

I live in Tang Hall, one of the graduate dorms at MIT, in a 4 bedroom apartment with 3 other roommates. I felt the first intervention of COVID-19 in my daily life during the first week of February when an uninvited guest, a friend of one of my roommates who lives on the same floor as us, started living in our common room. Upon asking him, I learned that he was avoiding living with one of his roommates (for 14 days), who had recently traveled back from an affected country. At that time I wondered: Dude, seriously? Is it that bad? Due to our guest’s genuine efforts of not disturbing the apartment residents, days passed smoothly. He left after 8 days and I thought the story was over — until its resurgence in a few weeks. 

Though the news of the spread of Corona was all over the media, I was only loosely tracking the increase of cases across the world, especially due to the extremely low number of reported cases in the US and in India. I felt the major impact on my life for the first time when my order of a Laptop with Lenovo on February 13th  showed me a delivery date of March 28th due to the slow pace of production in China (at least that’s what customer care said). The incident made me realize that this situation would have a major impact on everyone’s life. Soon enough, around the 2nd week of March, we got an email from the MIT administration about the suspension of exams/classes and shifting to virtual classes. 

The academic transition was pretty smooth for me, thanks to the cancellation of all the mid-semester exams and class assignments (:P). I am assuming it was not so for the undergraduates who had to leave the campus within a short time for dedensification of undergraduate dorms. In fact, one of my roommates, a master's student, had to leave for his home country, as doing virtual classes from the house here was not worth the living costs. The fear of one of my lab-mates being infected (fortunately it was just pneumonia) also made things pretty scary at one point in time. With most of the recreational activities like intramural sports called-off, the athletic center closed and strict social distancing rules in place, most of us found ourselves in near total isolation.

But for me, luckily, things have not gone downhill by a lot. Living in the room on the 18th floor with a river view has not worked out bad for me so far. My use of webcam has exponentially increased, and, like everyone else, I am now an advanced user of video conferencing software. My cooking skills, as well as familiarity with UberEats, have drastically increased. My personal hygiene habits have also improved by a good amount. The lab group discussion forums have become more active. My one-one-one meetings with my advisor have also become more frequent since he has fewer outside commitments these days. 

The time of isolation has also made me visualize my social circle much better. This is the time when people have to make the effort to socialize. Whether it’s a surprise birthday party in Cambridge amid corona fears (before the social distance advisory came out) or frequent running around Charles or the willingness of people to temporarily host displaced students in case of possible emergency evacuation from graduate housing, interactions with certain people have made me realize their importance and value in my life.

In such tough times, the MIT administration, my department (Mechanical Engineering), as well as graduate housing, have been consistent and proactive in their support and stress management efforts. The way the whole MIT community is responsibly dealing with these times of chaos is commendable and gives me hope that we will get through these times quickly and smoothly.