Check-in with Geography Graduate Student Emily De Sousa

Posted on Monday, April 13th, 2020

Emily De Sousa is a masters student in her first year of the geography program.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your life?

I think like many people, I wasn’t taking COVID-19 as seriously as I should have in the beginning. I was travelling for the entire month of February and it wasn’t really a concern to me then. Things became very, very real for me on Thursday March 12th. This was the day I found out that my dad tested positive for COVID-19. To say the days after his diagnosis were stressful, would be an understatement. My life was hijacked by crippling anxiety and paralyzing uncertainty due to strict isolation rules preventing me from seeing one of the most important people in my life. The days blurred together in a routine of desperately waiting for the phone to ring with a positive update and trying to drown out the silence with Netflix. I am happy to say that my dad is doing much better now and is safely back at home thanks to the tireless efforts of frontline healthcare workers.

As relived as I am that my family is safe, now that this storm has seemingly passed through our lives, it's forced me to refocus on the other responsibilities I shelved in the wake of my dad’s diagnosis. As a freelance travel writer, my business crumpled overnight due to COVID-19. I’ve been hemorrhaging clients and with no end in sight for global travel bans, I have no idea when I’ll be able to find new ones. I’m grateful to hold a couple of research positions through the university that will keep me afloat, but the pandemic has required a lot of restructuring and adapting on the fly in my professional life and financial situation.

I’m also the founder of Youth Action on Climate Change, a youth climate leadership organization here in Guelph. I made the difficult decision to cancel our annual Youth Climate Leadership Summit, that would’ve brought hundreds of high school students to campus on March 13th. I’ve now been focussing on picking up the pieces and looking for new ways to rebuild and support our high school students during this difficult time including developing online climate action curriculum and webinars about virtual climate organizing.

How has your schooling been affected?

As a graduate student, all of my classes are seminar style, so there haven’t been any "lectures" that have required online course delivery. Rather, my professors have asked us to continue to meet the assignment requirements as planned, with extended and flexible due dates. I mostly stay in touch with graduate students in my own lab through weekly virtual meetings, which have been really helpful for dealing with the loneliness of isolation.

In terms of my thesis research, COVID-19 has had a massive impact, both in the way I will execute my field work and my project as a whole. My research focuses on values-based direct marketing models in the seafood industry, which has been faced with tremendous hardship as a result of COVID-19 forcing restaurant closures and quarantine rules restricting access to global markets. Myself, my advisor, and other colleagues in my lab have been flying by the seat of our pants trying to keep up with the ways that fishermen are creatively adapting to this situation, which is reshaping my thesis project every single day.

While I’m disappointed that my field work will likely need to be mostly done remotely, I am very interested to see how the seafood industry comes out on the other side of this and what the implications of COVID-19 will be for local food systems and global supply chains overall.

How are you keeping busy?

My family and I FaceTime each other regularly. We used to do family brunch every Sunday, a tradition we’ve managed to uphold over Zoom. I’m also trying to teach my 79-year old non-English speaking grandmother how to use an iPad over the phone so we can FaceTime her as well. It’s proving to be an interesting challenge.

I’ve been running for exercise. Which mostly sucks because I hate running and am very, very bad at it, but it’s been good to get outside and break-free of the confines of my 700-square foot apartment.

Any tips for other graduate students?

Don’t put pressure on yourself to be productive right now. This isn’t a vacation, it’s a pandemic. The time we’re spending at home isn’t “free time” it’s time riddled with stress and anxiety. It’s fine to spend it watching Netflix or baking instead of writing your thesis. Go easy on yourself.

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