Episode Notes | Episode Transcript

Episode Notes

Episode Title: Fall Semester & The Virus. Dr Sridhara Dasu, Chair, Physics Department, U of Wisconsin Madison. Part II.

Episode summary introduction: The coronavirus pandemic is going to be with us for a while. How we live with the virus, as we look ahead at the Fall semester, is the topic of discussion with Dr Sridhara Dasu, Chair of Physics Department at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • What does Fall Semester look like at University of Wisconsin Madison?
  • What operations can be re-started safely?
  • Are there any permanent changes as a result of the pandemic?

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Fall UG classes? [1:16]
  • Restart Graduate and Research Safely [4:36]
  • Changes to the Nature of Work [6:25]
  • Impact to Fall enrollment [9:08]

Our Guest: Dr Sridhara Dasu, Chair of the Physics Department, University of Wisconsin Madison.

Memorable Quote: "We have proved we can work from wherever we are, most of the time.

Episode Transcript: Please visit almamatters.io/podcasts.


Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Venkat  0:12

A “once-in-a-century” pandemic closed US campuses this spring and sent students home and classes online.

In Part I, Dr Sridhara Dasu, Chair of the Physics Department at the University of Wisconsin Madison, gave us a vivid account of how his department moved to meet the need of the hour by moving classes online.

In Part II of this conversation, Dr Dasu shares his views on what the immediate future of the campus looks like and the changing nature of work.

Without delay, let’s get back to Dr Sridhara Dasu!

Venkat  0:53  

Let's sort of move ahead and look, look at the fall semester and look beyond. How do you see this panning out? What is the general thinking? What's the mood of the university and of the departments and of the profs themselves? I mean, it is a people issue as well. So yeah, how do you, how do you see all this?

Dr Dasu  1:16  [Fall UG classes?]

[The] Faculty in my department, would love to go back to what it was like. However, those in house were wearing administrative hat. We don't want to take the responsibility of, of having to deal that potential problems.

In particular, the kind of things that I'm worried about is that okay, we open up for  big lecture rooms in fall, and then it turns out one person got infected, what's going to happen? We have thousands of people going in and out of the building every day. It's a big crisis. And we'll shut down immediately and we won’t open for the rest of the semester. So we’re back to a worse situation, that we're suddenly in the middle of a semester. Now with no warning at all, we have to go into this mode of teaching online again, it'll be terribly disruptive.

So in my opinion, and in the opinion of almost everybody in the, on the campus at this stage, we really don't want to have lost classes in fall. And I think that we haven't cancelled it yet at Wisconsin, but I think that that's what it will end up being. I think the same thing across the board.

There are some competing factors. So for instance, I refer to the dorms’ situation.

Now that's a liability for the university as well in one sense, right? You know, if somebody in the dorm gets infected and there are hundreds of people there then they can be lost. So it can be all sorts of things. So liability it was one aspect.

The second aspect - fact is that we cannot have the close contact, so we need to spread them out. So that means that the income from the operations will be much lower than the expenses. Because if you if, you know how the dorms are, you actually space them apart and give everybody a single room, suddenly the income goes down by a factor of four. And you still have to pay people and all that.

So I think that economically, it'll be a big problem for the University to run these dorms and such facilities at one quarter the normal occupancy.

On top of it, for a small town like Madison, if you suddenly put 5000 to 10,000 more students out in the private market to find housing. I think there is housing in Madison to support and there are 5000 apartments or 2000 apartments, what I would add is there's just not enough space.

So I don't think that any of these things are practical for fall. So I don't expect in the universities like there'll be an opportunity to conduct classes in Fall.

Online, they'll have to be done online.

Venkat  4:27  

In the short run, is there anything that could happen that would allow you to feel comfortable about safety, Or do you think it's just too early?

Dr Dasu  4:36  [Restart Graduate and Research Safely]

Um, I think that for limited operations, it should not be a problem.

In particular, in major research universities like ours, the building, half the building, or maybe even two thirds of the building is actually for research laboratories. So they're very big rooms with equipment and we want to take data we want to publish papers. So, I think that we want to continue with research in the building and the big rooms with one or two people with the appropriate social distancing and masks and PPE should work, so we will probably resume research.

The graduate students’ classes tend to be 20 to 30 people classes. Normally the classes are in small rooms, but if we are not conducting these gigantic lectures, those rooms become available. So, for a 30% class, if you use 100% room, it should be okay to have that, so I think graduate studies and research program can resume, and then there will be a limited number of people so we can keep the building always locked all these students and faculty have now keyed entry so they can come in and we can monitor people. So I think that will open up for graduate studies. Maybe not graduate courses, but definitely graduate research. So they continue their PhD pro, PhD progress. And research can continue.

That's what I think will happen then. And we can do that provided we don't have large groups of people walking in and out of the building for a 50-minute lecture, right.

Venkat  6:25  [Changes to the Nature of Work]

Now, the question is, you know, whatever you learned in this semester, that's just computing. Do you see some or parts of it are lots of it being applied going ahead? I mean, beyond, let's say, the pandemic is, you know, on its way out in January, when would, would any, any of this be incorporated? Or would you want to go back to where it was in sort of fall of 2019?

Dr Dasu  6:54  

Well, some of it will be naturally changing, because a lot of people came to work, because that was the place where they could get work done. And they assume that that's where the work is done. Now we would have proved we can work from where we are most of the time. So I think, that senior faculty and more old fashioned people will stop thinking that if you're home, you're not working. It's not people think, I like that remote work will be considered a reasonable thing to do. So I think that, operations will change a lot of support staff are also working from home now and they're perfectly reasonably effective or perfectly effective at this stage. So they don't come in and they won't want to work from home for whatever reasons, it will be perfectly reasonable for, for them to go on that way. So I think the style will change, which will reduce the demand on office space, which is a good thing because you're typically the buildings are overcrowded because a lot of people in their place and they're very close to each other.

So those who need to come in then can have a little more spacious offices and so on so forth. So I think that nature of work, office will change quite a bit.

You know, we have this thing which personally called graduate student bullpen, this is a physics department. It's all bulls, mostly. It's called a bullpen and a whole bunch of students are in one room and they have party kind of atmosphere there. Yeah, that's gonna be very different, I think. So, I think people want private offices.

And yeah, it's not shared too many things. I think that this will be a long, long lasting change.

Venkat  9:08  [Impact to Fall enrollment]

Have you seen any student enrollment at this point? Maybe it's too early for the fall.

Dr Dasu  9:14  

It’s is a very important thing that's happening right now. Typically, graduate student body means to body in sciences across the country is about 50%, the international community. They are not coming in September, in all likelihood, because at the moment, all the consulates issuing visas are closed. Even when they open, I don’t think that their highest priority would be to issue visas but to figure it out, all sorts of other things that the consulates and embassies are engaged in. So I don't see a lot of international student community arriving in Fall, maybe January, but fall doesn't look like a possibility.

So that by itself, for graduates are about half foreign body, it's about 20% or so International, across the country, and all that will be affected in, in the fall. So it's going to be a big, big difference for campuses everywhere.

Venkat  10:29  

Okay. But domestically, you don't see...

Dr Dasu  10:32  

Domestically also, there may be families who don't, especially at an undergraduate level, they may want children to be close by, in case of trouble, in case something happens. So I can see that non-Wisconsinites coming in from far may drop a little bit. Right?

But on the other hand, yes, yeah, they prefer more. Madison is not exactly Rural but it's less dense population here than then big cities like Chicago or New York.

So it's possible. If you have an offer from Columbia and Princeton, you probably end up going to Princeton rather than Columbia. Those decisions made in April, right at the end of April, I guess is when people enter their decision.

I don't know the enrollment numbers, but I can believe that big city campuses are going to see a big downturn, and the more rural campuses will have an upswing...

Venkat  11:40  

So Sridhara, that this is awesome. This was very helpful, insightful, I think, our audience of students, in particular, the international students, I think this will make a lot of sense. And I kinda wanted to get a perspective from the faculty side and from the campus side because I've talked to a lot of students and other people, the other stakeholders, but an inside view. And so this has been very, very illuminating.

So, thank you for taking the time and doing this podcast. I will process it and then send you a link and you can enjoy it as well.

Venkat 12:21

Hope you enjoyed Part II of our conversation with Dr Sridhara Dasu, Chair of the Physics Dept at University of Wisconsin Madison. The changes to the nature of work ushered in by this pandemic, may be here to stay.

Thank you so much for listening to today's podcast. If you missed our Part I with Dr Dasu on moving instruction online from in-class, please be sure to check that podcast out.

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters].

These podcasts are brought to you by almamatters.io. Till we meet again, take care and be safe. Thank you!

Summary Keywords

Campus, Madison, Students, Classes, international student, pandemic, graduate studies, physics department, semester, research

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