Week 3: The Realities of Remote Work

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Thursday, June 24, 2021


Gina Pantano

Hello everyone!

Week number three is officially in the books! I hope you all are doing well and staying healthy. This past year has been a challenge for all of us with the coronavirus wreaking havoc on the world. We have had to endure one of the greatest tragedies in our lifetime with families being divided, businesses closing for good, life events being put on hold, experiencing an economic crisis, and losing thousands of loved ones. Personally, the pandemic robbed me of a lot of important life events such as my graduation and award ceremonies I worked tirelessly for. I was also heartbroken when I found out I will be living out my dream as a NASA intern from inside my living room. However, I am extremely grateful to still have access to these opportunities, and I recognize my privilege that comes with that. Despite the hardships brought on by the pandemic, we have made it out of the neck of the woods together. The pandemic has shown us how adaptable and resilient we truly are as a society. One implication of this is teleworking from home. Of the 5,858 working adults surveyed by Pew Research Center, 71% of them are currently working from home with only 20% who worked at home prior to the outbreak [1]. Teleworking has equal benefits and shortcomings, in my opinion, and I will share my experience and advice on how to effectively work from home towards the end of this post. But first, let me tell you about my busy week!

New Physics

Although I do not have any new physics to share this week, I wanted to discuss my process of learning object-oriented programming with Python. Before my internship, I was the Computational Physics TA for my department at the University of Tampa for two years. I gained a lot of experience working with Python, from modeling the double pendulum to creating my own fourth-order Runge-Kutta solver. However, I never learned how to work with classes in Python. Classes in Python are used to create new user-defined data structures that contain data in the form of variables (informally called attributes) and functions (informally called methods). An object is just an instance created from the class. Classes can be thought of as nouns: people, places, and things. A common example professors use is creating a simple class called “Vehicle”. The attributes in this class could be the model, the make, the year, etc. The methods could be a function of filling the gas tank, driving the car, or something alike. You can create as many objects as you like for each class, such as a 2014 Honda Accord. Classes can be extremely useful when you need to define and keep track of state (essentially the values of attributes for each object), create organized and reusable code, and so much more! If you are interested in learning more about classes in Python, try clicking the link below. I also included a link to Jules Kouatchou’s GitHub, a Computational Scientist at GSFC, which has LOADS of tutorials and information on Python. My next objective for my research project is to create a datacube class that assigns WCS coordinates for plotting, tracks the frequency and redshift for each line intensity slice, and plots the data. Later on, we will add in more functions (methods, now you are getting it!) such as noise from the detector.

Working with Classes in Python: https://vegibit.com/python-class-examples/

GitHub Link: https://github.com/gina-pantano/py_courses

Weekly Events

Starting with Monday, Joseph and I attended the first beginning Python course, which ended up being a nice review for me. With programming, there is always something new to learn. I also find it interesting how different people code, almost like an art similar to writing. Later in the evening, I attended our biweekly collaboration meeting which my mentor, Dr. Switzer, facilitates. On Tuesday, I attended a virtual lunch and learn session with the GSFC library in the morning where I learned about an amazing resource called the O’Reilly Learning Platform. The platform delivers expert content from world leaders in the technology industry. This includes ebooks, content from leading technology conferences, live courses, interactive videos, and so much more. I signed up for eight classes to take over the summer, and I will talk about them later on! The rest of the day was filled with meetings and working on developing software for visualizing the intensity maps in celestial coordinates. On Wednesday, I started the morning off with my weekly meeting with my mentor and Trevor. I was anxious to attend since I had not made any significant progress on creating the software to plot in celestial coordinates and required additional assistance. I struggled significantly figuring out how to plot a random 2D array in WCS coordinates. I felt as though I was going to lose an opportunity to impress the team and make a significant contribution. However, after doing extensive research, I discovered a website that explained a method on how to build a WCS object with a dictionary, allowing us to map the pixel coordinate space to the world coordinate space to our specifications. I presented this during the meeting, and my mentor said this was a great direction to take. My mentor later showed me you can plot a random 2D array similar to just plotting a .fits file (image). In other words, I was overthinking it the whole time! Later in the day, I attended the second beginner coding class where we talked about data types. Friday we had the day off in observance of Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., which was officially declared a federal holiday after Biden signed legislation on Thursday. Although this day gives us time to reflect on our history and celebrate those affected, the new law is not enough. There is still tremendous progress that needs to be made with advancing racial equity at the federal level.

Overall Experience and Feelings

In addition to working through my issues with plotting in celestial coordinates, I have also been trying to navigate the work-from-home culture, and what the best daily routine is for me. Teleworking has several benefits such as freedom and flexibility, saving on commute costs and travel expenses, and working from the comfort of your own home. However, there are also some harsh realities to remote work. Here are some of the challenges I have been facing and some tips to overcome them.

Maintaining Motivation is Hard

While teleworking, it can be difficult to maintain motivation and avoid procrastination. I have found myself easily distracted with my phone, the television, my crazy cats, the lawnmower outside, my loud neighbors, the unfinished chores, and the list goes on and on. I am learning it takes a lot more self-discipline than I anticipated to stay engaged with my video conference calls and to finish my project objectives promptly.

Solution: Define a workspace and limit distractions. Create a space in your place that is solely dedicated to work (and no not your bed!). When you enter this space, you must eliminate all distractions including your cell phone. Invest in a pair of earbuds or headphones that filter out external noise. Make sure you have a full water bottle on hand and your devices plugged in (charging). You want to avoid getting up and breaking your flow state as much as possible. I also recommend looking into the Pomodoro method since your work schedule is flexible from home. The basic science behind it is that our brains only need 5-minutes to reset, but it is important you take that time to remove yourself from your workspace. You set a timer for 25-minutes, complete as many tasks as you can within that interval, take a 5-minute break, and repeat this three more times. Once you do this for four cycles, you can take a 30-minute break to decompress. Here is a video explaining how the method works: https://youtu.be/mNBmG24djoY

Work-Life Balance is Difficult

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be difficult when teleworking since your work is always near you. Sometimes you will find yourself bored late at night and want to get some work done at 9 pm. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, you can easily end up working 10-12 hours by accident and quickly find yourself burnt out. Work can be consuming and it's important you dedicate time to hobbies and getting out in nature every day. 

Solution: Create a solid daily routine, and most importantly, STICK TO IT! Try to start and end your workday at the same time. Avoid breaking your work habits at all costs. It can be a slippery slope and lead to either being overworked or procrastinating. Schedule breaks for yourself and time to dedicate to other hobbies. 

Networking is Hard

When you telework from home, you lose the benefit of those “water cooler” talks. You can no longer visit someone’s office, overhear important conversations, socialize with colleagues at lunch, etc. Building good rapport with your mentor(s) can be quite difficult through a computer screen, but it can be done! Additionally, working remotely can also be very isolating. Make sure to schedule informal social hours with your peers such as a virtual happy hour and stay social in your real life as well. 

Solution: Make sure to make connections virtually through platforms such as LinkedIn and schedule weekly socializing events. 

Additional Tips

  • Get outside at least once every single day. 
  • Make sure to complete a teleworking agreement between you and your mentor(s). This will establish expectations, goals, work hours, and more. It also serves as a “contract” to hold you both accountable if you run into trouble communicating with your mentor(s). Good communication is crucial!
  • Invest in a pair of blue light glasses to save your eyes.
  • Find ways to channel your stress through positive hobbies (journaling, exercise, etc.)
  • Create a schedule that works for you!
  • Schedule breaks for yourself.

Happy Researching!


[1] Parker, K., Horowitz, J. M., & Minkin, R. (2021, May 25). How Coronavirus Has Changed the Way Americans Work. Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/12/09/how-the-coronavirus....

Gina Pantano (she/her/hers)