Coping with COVID-19: A Coaching Curriculum for Early Career Academics

The COVID-19 pandemic has created universal disruptions to work, parenting, and life in general. Mental health care needs have skyrocketed and many individuals are challenged with forging a path through working at home, home schooling, financial hardship, and uncertain futures. CEED faculty Jennifer Kirby and Cynthia Bulik have created a freely available coaching curriculum that we offer free of charge here to any clinicians who would like to lead a group to help individuals who are working from home navigate these complex waters.

Several senior academics in our circle noticed that our junior (and senior!) colleagues were stressed, working at odd hours (trying to squeeze in work around childcare), working less smartly than usual with quality being compromised, and not communicating with us about the challenges they were facing. We also heard a lot of fears about the future and the impact of the pandemic on their career progression—especially from women who were carrying the brunt of the home schooling and childcare responsibilities.

Jen and Cindy

Drs. Jennifer Kirby and Cynthia Bulik

Dr. Jennifer Kirby and I have worked together for a decade developing several manualized treatments and within days developed a draft coaching curriculum to assist academics in navigating the pandemic. We piloted the coaching sessions with a group of early career researchers who were also mothers of young children and it was so successful that we decided to make the curriculum available to anyone who would like to lead a coaching group. We also soon realized that this curriculum is applicable well beyond academe, to anyone who is working and trying to adapt to this complex and unpredictable environment.

The curriculum is anchored in basic principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy and we recommend that clinicians who intend to offer the curriculum have some training in those modalities. Topics covered include:

  • Focusing on self-care
  • Managing expectations and priorities
  • Working smarter not harder when demands are high and resources are low
  • Thinking well during the pandemic (thinking errors, thinking better)
  • Recognizing and managing emotions (complex grief, emotional lability, tools for responding to emotions)
  • Managing uncertainty
  • Planning ahead professionally, revising expectations, being proactive and collaborative, communicating
  • Planning ahead personally

We have created a downloadable package to facilitate your ability to adapt and deliver the coaching sessions. The package includes a training video that walks you through the 9-session curriculum step-by-step, discusses the general stance of the curriculum (e.g., clarifying differences between coaching and therapy), and where we discuss our experience with delivering the sessions. We also provide an accompanying session-by-session guide to walk you through expectations and goals of each session as well as a modifiable PowerPoint presentation that you can share with participants to direct your sessions. We conducted all of our sessions by Zoom at agreed upon times when participants could find an hour to be freed up by their work and families to concentrate on their own needs.

Many heads of labs and principal investigators in academe have considered offering the coaching sessions to their team members to provide a safe space to discuss pandemic-related challenges and share solutions regarding how to navigate the COVID landscape.

To be clear, there is no profit associated with this curriculum. We are all in this situation around the world and the virus has proven to be mercurial and persistent, so the need for support will continue until more permanent solutions have been found and implemented.

We welcome any feedback that you have from your experience delivering or participating in the coaching sessions and encourage you to share this curriculum widely with your colleagues.