Covid impact statement

30 September 2021

Subtitle: Falling through cracks

When the world stopped, we were sitting in a weekly research group lunch meeting. My coworkers laughed at media feeds showing toilet paper shortages, despite that the same trend would happen soon in Sweden. I didn’t laugh, what a spoilsport I was. Instead, I took it very seriously immediately, but only for very selfish reasons: I saw the future right away in terms of the job market, knowing I had less than a year to find a new home, a new job, and if I didn’t, I would have, literally, again no support nor country to stay within, only a country to return to (the US) without a location within it for any destination.

I had obtained my PhD in 2009. I was what the media had termed back then the “forgotten generation,” those people for whom there were not stable jobs to transition into after their degree was awarded, due to the economic recession of the era. By the time the US, and the rest of the world, would rebound, the new jobs would be divvied out to the next generation of scientists, leaving us aging and with battle scars of impermanence already making us outdated and impasse in the career world. I had done everything at that time, and after, that I could to remedy my career fate, starting with adjunct positions, unpaid research collaborations, and then many international moves for, primarily, paid research – initiated long after the standard “cookie cutter” progression of the academic career path. I stubbornly tried to persist and progress through piece-meal experiences that didn’t match the traditional view of a scientists’ career path, hence, people who thought in singularity towards academic career paths failed to see my future potential. It also excluded me from funding acquisitions that peers could still apply to, despite that my salary and treatment during work was kept equal to them. I was currently battling the issue of being “mid-career” in longevity (and experiences) while being constantly viewed as “early career” because my experiences didn’t match up to others of my professional generation, alongside differences in standards between countries and institutions. I was also only qualified to apply for funding and jobs as available to other mid-career people, circularity in the issue due a system set up like a one-way road lacking any on- or off-ramps.

So back in early 2020, I sat at that meeting and spoke quickly about how terrible such a shutdown would be for the economy. My colleagues, to their credit, muted their merriment in making fun of my home country (a pastime of most during those days, given the political and cultural turmoil of the US) to see the overall larger picture of what might happen. One started ruminating on what might happen to the plane tickets she and her family had booked for a trip to the States. Still, none of us, really had any idea of the repercussions.

Not soon after that meeting, and on the same day that I gave my last in-person presentation at the university (SLU), in early March, my father fell and hit his head so hard to end up in the New Orleans hospital, only a week before it became overrun with infection, and I couldn’t help but notice how labored my own breathing was, both during the presentation and then after, while sitting with colleagues over a coffee. I was far too busy thinking of my father, terrified he might be dying (he didn’t), and trying to keep my composure despite the internal turmoil, to really think much of my breathing beyond a small notice. In a week, the university supported people to work from home, so most of us did, and life changed for us in Sweden as it had already around the world: we were now primarily remote, when possible.

Only, we were still required to work. I was, if I am honest, a bit jealous of the rest of the world who had fully shut down, as I could have used time away from my job. I had already been taking one day of holiday each week for the month, to work on personal tasks: funding applications related current autonomous research, and job applications. It necessitated me to take more personal time than the weekend allowed in pursuit of professional development, as these activities were not allowed during my working hours. However, most of those vacations days instead became sleepy days, me exhausted. The weeks passed and I still remember the surprised feeling of a yawn after not having one for considerable time, after those isolated times when I told myself to just breath shallowly, checking the color of my lips, as the health authorities had recommended, those days that I forced myself to bed because I was not right, like many people across the world…


During the start of the shutdown (in countries other than Sweden), there was a news article, from the States, exemplifying the challenges international people there, also in tenuous academic and research situations, were facing. It was the inverted problem I had and soon faced, for them with expiring residence permits and incapacities to stay and work in the States consequent of dire circumstances to those peoples’ personal and professional lives. I read the article, both with empathy for those individuals, being one of them, too, except that I was in Europe, but – importantly – I read it with a darkness in my thoughts regarding the US, thinking how I wasn’t reading an article including the same situations that we US citizens faced in other countries, i.e., our stories. There was no unemployment fund for repatriating citizens, or conversely any ability to prolong my residence in Sweden, not without a new job, and that was the biggest impact of covid to me: the consequences to the job market, and at another critical point in my career.

I did the only thing I could while in Sweden, most likely recovering from covid, and thinking of my future: I saved all the money I could, to support myself after the latest job ended, because there would be no social system for me to rely upon for help. I applied for funding as possible, but received none. I applied to the few available jobs as possible, but received none. I worked, of course. I took professional development courses, personally paying for them. I presented at digital Zoom meetings (Ecological Society of America), again personally paying. I continued forward as possible, but because the rest of the world was suspended in a strange, distant shutdown combined with unprecedented political turmoil, so too were my efforts to continue my own life suspended.

I had no choice but to move back to the US. Temporary residence permissions in Europe will extricate any non-EU citizens immediately upon the end of their work contracts. This was now a year after covid had stopped the world, in early 2021, and just before the vaccine roll-outs. It was a stressful move in preparation, but went without a hitch when executed.


Ironically, I returned to the same small rural town where I received my PhD in 2009, curiously wondering about the hard times I left the location in, without any job, only to return full circle to it, and it seemed that I was still in hard times. I learned that my peers in the US now all had employment, houses, land, children, spouses, rentals, sporting equipment, automobiles, furniture, pets, all those norms of American adulthood. I scratched my head in wonder at the generations after me, dumbfounded that they owned so many amenities. How had they done that, I asked myself? I had moved with five boxes shipped across the ocean. They talked about the issues of family life with covid and tenure track positions. I agreed it was hard times for them. I learned that those with PhDs awarded after mine also had stable employments, from making things work, and again I agreed it was hard times for them. I decided to not point me out as the “elephant in the room,” that clumsy truth of an international female scientist: I was the only one still treading water in temporary research gigs, with more countries and institutional affiliations on my CV than anyone else, but still without the norms of professional development that would secure me a position at the level I believed that I deserved, as evidenced from my experiences. They have now written up covid impact statements, which are nothing so personal as I have shared here, but are submitted to their university and, hopefully, will buy them time from the tenure track, or the other limitations covid imposed on their professional lives. I, however, cannot write any such statement, except that as I do here. I know it doesn’t fit the norm for covid impact statements, most likely, but as I have explained: neither have I fit any norm in my career, since acquiring my PhD in 2009.


During covid, I slipped through every crack in the foundations of societies from Sweden to the United States, evidenced in the way that I could not file for unemployment when my job ended in March of 2021 (nor the other times in 2018, or even after my PhD in 2009); in the way that I, critically, needed to leave Sweden by the time my contract ended (again, the same as in 2016, 2018 and 2019, from the UK, Switzerland and twice from Norway); and in the way I now apply for jobs while many following after me instead secure tenure.


Did covid impact me? Of course. It impacted everybody. Did I have any support during covid? No, I am afraid I did not. It seems that some of us more easily slip through societies’ cracks, those faceless people that the world has always chosen to ignore or to not take seriously despite the uphill battles. While we are not alone, so many of us from so many demographic groups are lacking in terms of societal support and recognition, but that acknowledgement doesn’t fix the problem. It only evidences how many problems we are, and the cracks in societies’ foundations that cause us to become forever lost.