Farewell Students, Note Well

Hello Students, 

You have meant so much to me in these last few months. Really, talking to you afforded mental sanity in my domestic jail! I am sure some of you can relate. Here’s some advice for the coming months when we won’t have each other to lean on. 

1. First and foremost, keep in touch. I teach in the summer so I am only an email away. 🙂 I wish you the best. Let me know how I can help. 

2. Find webinars and other weekly meet-ups of professionals in your field. My go-to webinars are published by the Society for Ecological Restoration, the Colorado Native Plant Society and eCornell through LinkedIn. The first two are like-minded people talking about their research and interests. eCornell has a different topic every day and the topics span any genre of conversation about COVID-related life and times. Today it was about the psychology of social distancing, which leads me to #3…

3. Stay committed to social distancing. I have over 100 biology and environmental science students right now. It’s my job to research COVID-19 and compose thoughtful and informed lectures about it so here’s my final lecture.

It is completely inappropriate for our country to get back to work right now. Case numbers are still increasing. We have no available interventions. I can’t even get elastic for masks. If you get a mask from me, it’ll have shoelaces or folded fabric for ties! I know the economic ramifications are basically endless, but if we go back to business as used to be usual, we will succumb to the harsh realities of survival of the fittest. Many, many more people will die. We will experience the downturn of the carrying capacity graph we discussed. 

Let’s be a model for others. Keep up with the social distancing, staying at home and by all means, wash your hands frequently. 

As a measure of my personal commitment to distancing, I’m not sure I’ll even want the children to go to school in September. It will be a huge personal sacrifice to continue homeschooling, but this is a game of statistics. We can do whatever we want, but every potential exposure is an independent event. You don’t get tougher because you go out more. You simply increase the statistical probability you’ll encounter COVID-19. Until there is an effective vaccination, we’re better off distancing. Isn’t it just amazing how an infection can get from a meat market in China to every country in the world in just a few months? Let this sink in.

Historically, species moved around at the pace relative to their physical capabilities. When you introduce planes, trains, and automobiles, the rules of natural selection change. We didn’t evolve to move tens to hundreds of miles per hour. This is taking a toll on us because when we move, the microorganisms we harbor also move. And for them, the speed of planes, trains, and automobiles are really, really, really beyond anything in the wildest scope of biological possibility because they are microscopic and lack conscientious motility. We move and we spread our pathogens faster than our biological systems can mount defenses and faster than our medical technology can work to create solutions. 

So slow down, take it easy, enjoy the upsides to staying at home/sheltering in place/self-isolating. You will face choices everyday. Sometimes you will go out into crowded spaces and probably you will make it out without any repercussions. But just keep remembering- every choice is an independent event. Just because you went out yesterday doesn’t mean you have to do it today.

Make conscientious choices everyday. It’s statistics!  If we can be slow for long enough, our modern interventions will catch up. We will find helpful medicines. We will create vaccinations. We will adapt our commercial spaces for optimal safety from communicable disease. We will survive. Today is the last day of the college semester. Thank goodness! It’s hard to get any professional work done at home. Best of luck to you.

Thanks, Maggie

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