Working from home: 'For us theoretical biologists it's relatively easy'

Kirsten ten Tusscher working from home

Kirsten ten Tusscher, Professor of Computational Developmental Biology, tells what has changed about her work now that she can no longer come to the university. This week, another exciting step will be taken: the System Biology exam for first year Biology students will be a remote Remindo exam. "We hope that the technology gods will favor us and that our 300 students will all have a good wifi connection."

Kirsten describes which activities are more difficult to perform from home: “It’s a bit more difficult to teach seminars and administer exams. It’s also more complicated to meet with PhD candidates and students when you can’t just sketch something on the board or a sheet of paper, but you can still do a lot with screen sharing. As Theoretical Biologists, we have it relatively easy: as long as our computers at Utrecht Science Park have electricity and the Internet is working, we can still do a lot of our research from home. But the extra teaching load in this period has left a bit less time for research, and there’s nothing we can do about that.”

Online seminars

In order to ensure that online education runs smoothly, lecturers and student assistants have had to step up to the plate. At Systems Biology, teaching remotely is organised as follows: “We use Microsoft Teams with eight parallel channels for the seminars: one for each student assistant, while the other lecturers and I play fly keeper. That’s been a fairly good solution. It’s great to see how the student assistants come up with all sorts of initiatives themselves, like creating slides, using drawing programs and screen sharing, to explain difficult maths remotely. It’s also wonderful to read the e-mails from students expressing their appreciation for our efforts online. That makes it all worthwhile.”

New balance

Like many others at the moment, Kirsten also has to deal with changed circumstances at home. “I have two children, so I have to devote quite a bit of time to helping the children with their school work. We’ve had to make some new agreements at home, of course, like not singing too loudly when mama or papa are Skyping.”

Tip of the day

Kirsten also has another tip related to working with children at home: “For other people with young children: Freek Vonk has made an educational video about the coronavirus.”