Writers’ Roundtable: How Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Impact your Career?

The pandemic reshaped the world in innumerable ways. It’s one of those events where people will say “before the pandemic…” or “since the start of the pandemic…” to describe how an aspect of their life changed in a significant way. This edition of the newsletter asks our contributors how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their career in conservation.

Jeff Berckes (2013)

One of my major takeaways from the pandemic centers on the idea of scientific communication. We know as scientists that our world uses a cool lexicon. I mean, seriously, I love that I know the term pseudocopulation and obviously use it any time I see an orchid, but if I just go around saying words like that in public without explanation, I might develop an odd reputation. The early confusion around COVID-19 should remind us all of the dangers of inconsistent communication and how translating our work into understandable and relatable messages can earn support, respect, and action in the face of crisis. If I can make an analogy here, the lessons learned from the “acute” pandemic of COVID-19 can help inform our collective messaging to help fight the “chronic” pandemic of climate change and environmental degradation.

For over thirteen years, I ran a water quality research program in my state and often struggled to overcome the inertia of misinformation that can bog down restoration efforts. After leaving my job during the pandemic, I started a podcast on the Clean Water Act in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency (The Clean Water Pod) to help demystify and decode water quality restoration efforts in the United States. By using plain language to help define some of the trickier scientific and bureaucratic terms, the show aims to highlight the great conservation work in water quality in the USA while hopefully inspiring more people to get involved and act in their local communities. Every episode, I watch my guests fight their inner scientist in explaining their work, knowing that leaning on jargon will not work to get their message across.

As I near the end of the first season in that endeavor, I’m struck by how podcasts didn’t even exist twenty years ago when I was an undergraduate. As professionals, we need to understand the pathways consumers take in information and be willing to reach them with the right form and substance. Having said that, I look forward to sharing your Instagram story about your interpretative TikTok dance of fighting your inner scientist on my Twitter account.

Elizabeth Diego (2022)

When the curfews and restricted movements were announced, I was scheduled to undertake community monitoring field work that had to be canceled. In no way was the community going to access the internet for virtual meetings. At that point in time it was not about the internet access for the communities in rural areas but getting on with activities that would ensure their livelihoods are secure. Water was enlisted as an essential service and this meant that all one needed to do was ensure you adhere to the COVID protection protocols and get to serve as a government officer. I got engaged with a team of geologists who had to undertake assessment and supervision of groundwater drilling to ensure there was water provisioned to those in the densely populated informal settlements. As I played my role in communicating the need for access to land and engaging the communities on what to expect of the project, I engaged in the process of siting the groundwater, drilling, water quality testing, and water supply. The faces of the amazed and happy community members when they got access to water for free still remains the most rewarding memories in my career. My geologist colleague demystified all the groundwater jargon and since then I deeply enjoy conversations on groundwater conservation and all it entails. During the intense curfews the rivers in the city were visibly cleaner and the environment too was cleaner. As the restrictions eased, some of the positive habits remained ingrained with the people through an increased awareness of the importance of conservation.

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