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A simple coffee in the sunshine

The pandemic has forced us to keep social distancing. In astronomy we are lucky to be one of the few disciplines that, in principle, can keep doing science remotely. In fact, the community just went fully online. Almost everyone is working from home, probably wearing comfy clothes and having a routine that perfectly matches each individuals personality. It is great that we can do that!

But we have became our worst enemy. Not having the collective routine of our peers and colleagues can harm our mental health, and our routines aren’t necessarily the best ones. We can easily enter into a vicious dilemma in which we fear we aren’t productive enough, and that others in astronomy might be better placed than us for the job marked at some point. That leads to stress and we become victims of unhealthy routines. On top of that, time has become a blur- entire weeks, months and seasons are passing without us taking any time off, further adding to the stress and ultimately leading to burnout.

Everybody has a very different way of dealing with this. While some might become a full chaos, unable to sleep, eating at random times and staring hours at the screen without really doing any science, others might be way too strict with routines, following to the second the clock, filling the agenda with one zoom meeting after the other, not allowing any free time to just make a plot. Either way, it becomes really difficult to conquer the self monster and break that damaging routine. 

We tend to hope the pandemic will be soon over, and we know that vaccines are supposed to help.   We wish that soon we will be expected to go every day to our offices and so return to “normality”. But honesty, when will that happen? What will that new normality look like? Can we stick it out for another year like this, working in isolation from our peers while maintaining both our productivity and our mental health?

Today it was a sunny day in Santiago. It was perfect for forcing ourselves to break the routine, cancel meetings, to distance ourselves from our email and instead open the door of our homes and go out to see each other. It was a perfect day to get a coffee-to-go, buy a tasty pastry and then walk in a park. It was a perfect day to feel how our skins got warm with the sunlight, to feel how the wind passed through our hair,  and to feel how our bodies and souls were fed with energy and love from just looking at the smily eyes of our peers and colleagues.

It is difficult to break routines for a simple coffee, but doing it together reminds us that in this new normality we are not alone.  Together we’ll keep adapting to pursuing our science the best way we can, as it’s always been. And some day, hopefully some day soon, we will all meet again for simple coffees in the Nucleo.

Picture (from back to front and left to right): Roberto Assef, Eveyn Johnston, Camilo Gonzalez, Thomas Maedler, Grace Batalla, Paula Jofre, Pedro Nogueira, Ana Posses, Erika Labbe

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