Meet the WinRs: Zelieann R. Craig, PhD

Associate Tenured Professor at the University of Arizona

What is your background/current position and what does it entail?

I’m an Associate Professor with Tenure at The University of Arizona School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences.  My efforts are distributed into mostly research (70% academic year; 100% in the summer), but I am also responsible for teaching (20%, 4 units per academic year), and service (10%; institutional and extramural). My research is in the area of reproductive toxicology and is focused on modeling human chemical exposures in mice to identify and characterize mechanisms involved in chemical-induced infertility in females.   

What impact has being quarantined had on your daily activities and position?

I’m married and have two children (11 and 8 years old).  My husband and I also provide assistance to my parent who lives with me.  Our previous routine was simple, we went to school or work during the weekdays and then in the evenings and weekends we did spent time together.  So, like nearly everyone I know, the most obvious impact has been having to work from home on a full-time basis.  This means that my husband and I had to find ways to meet the needs of our household and maintain morale while at the same time meeting the demands of work, homeschooling, and elder care.  The whole time was rough, but the toughest thing for me was the loneliness and guilt of having to lock myself in a room away from my family so that I could maintain progress at work.

What strategies have you adopted in order to create a new "normal" for your daily activities and position?

I was able to breathe better after school work started to wane down.  Anything before that is still a dark blur of tears, Zoom meetings, and hours sifting through dozens of guidance pages to complete a handful of required paperwork due immediately.   After that initial stage of despair, I began by adjusting my use of the Eisenhower and Pomodoro techniques that I previously used when at work.  If you are not familiar with these techniques, check out these videos describing them The Eisenhower Matrix and Pomodoro Technique.  My goals were to maximize the effectiveness of the reduced uninterrupted work time while still being able to really be at home with my family.  To make a long story short, using these techniques, I developed something that looked more like a routine and has paid off so far.  Again, I used these techniques before but now I have re-defined the criteria that lands a task within a specific priority category and re-purposed the in-between work times to do emails or make mac-n-cheese for the girls.  Now I don’t lock myself away but I’m available to my family approximately every 25-30 min.  

The basic principles of my routine are the following:

  • schedule one or two high complexity, high importance tasks per day (e.g. write/revise a manuscript or grant; do a literature review)
  • use the Pomodoro technique to work on the important scheduled tasks from above for chunks of 20-30 min and then check emails (or take out the trash) during the 5-10 min breaks
  • during email breaks, subject all incoming emails to the Eisenhower matrix by:
    • ignoring whatever is neither urgent nor important (e.g. mass mail, webinar ads)
    • delegating urgent things that are not important (e.g. suggest another reviewer for a paper, send links to videos or how-to pages instead of actually doing the tasks or writing a long email explaining)
    • taking care of things that are urgent and important immediately (e.g. approve timesheets, student questions, paperwork with strict deadlines)
    • scheduling things that are not urgent but are important (e.g. review graduate student proposal, read grant application instructions, committee work)

Have you gained any valuable lessons from being in quarantine?

I learned a lot of new valuable lessons.  Some lessons had a more positive tone like learning how to homeschool my children, stacking while playing UNO, and finally ditching my silly idea of wanting to be perfect at work.   Other lessons had a darker tone like realizing what some people and institutions value most and how far we are from a balanced society.  I think the most significant work-related lesson was that we need better science communication.  Witnessing fellow citizens struggle to get accurate health information despite a world so connected by the internet really highlighted urgent science communication needs.  Sadly, even though we are better than ever at communicating with the public, we still have a lot to do to bridge that gap.

What expectations have you had to let go or remove from your daily activities and position?

Perfection! I have a tendency to say yes to everything and strive for perfection.  This was the first think I had to let go to survive.  After all, we all know that the best work is not perfect, it’s finished.

How have you stayed connected with friends and family during this time?

I connect with friends and family via phone, text, Zoom, and social media.  I tried Facebook Rooms a couple of times and it was great to have family and friends just drop by whenever they could.  I also do virtual lunches or coffees with colleagues via Zoom.

What will you do differently once you return to your position?

This experience has changed my priorities for the better.  I will continue being strict about how I spend my time at home and at work.  I will also not take for granted the time I spend with my lab team and colleagues.  It is hard to be away from such smart and amazing people!

What are you most excited to do once the pandemic has cleared?

Two things come to mind first: going to Disneyland with my family since we cancelled our trip last March and taking my lab team out for lunch! 

How has being a woman in science affected your experiences and/or position during quarantine?

I’m a scientist at work, but I am a mother at home.  Even with my husband’s full commitment to sharing the load, I struggled going against my maternal instinct.  It is hard to sit in a room while you know that your children are missing you and your spouse is overwhelmed going at it alone.  This made focusing on work at home even more difficult and caused me a lot of stress.

What words of inspiration would you like to share to other women in science and the future generation of women in science?

Even though there are currently more women scientists than ever, our society is still getting used to what that looks like.  As with anything new, some aspects of it will be accepted and supported, while others will fall through the cracks, be ignored, or even rejected.  It is very hard to advocate for ourselves but it comes so easily when we do it for others.  That’s why it is very important to build and maintain networks with women at all career stages where they can listen to each other’s stories, share their hard-earned wisdom, and empower tenure protected or more senior female scientists and male allies to speak up and demand positive change for those less protected or junior.  Finally, this quarantine made something very clear to me - success, like happiness, is not a constant state but a series of separate significant events throughout one’s life.  Because of that, I realized that embarking on a long journey to success enjoying it as it rains one drop at a time is far better than expecting a lake of full of success at the end of the road.  Stop rushing towards the lake, slow down and enjoy the rain!