Work in the Time of COVID: Catching up with Ellia La

June 26, 2020

Back in March, graduate student Ellia La had just finished her proposal defense, Acylated Anthocyanins: Modulating Photochromism and Its Impact on Bioaccessibility. Life was busy—extracting samples, running experiments, preparing her proposal defense, and completing her dissertation work. Then, things changed.

When Ohio State announced that students would not be returning to campus after Spring Break, Ellia found herself at home in California living with her two siblings and parents. She was not only adjusting to a new working environment and the changes in day-to-day life brought on by the virus, she was also adjusting to family dynamics and learning how those dynamics have changed since everyone was last under one roof nearly 7 years ago. “Everyone has grown up. But we still have roles we play in the family,” Ellia said. These dynamics were a big adjustment compared to life in the lab. “I need to be flexible with my timeline. I need to eat lunch when they are eating lunch … I wasn’t able to just do whatever I want in a given moment.”

On top of family dynamics, Ellia finds herself struggling with motivation and efficiency at times. “A lot of different aspects of my life are kind of coinciding … I can definitely drift off a little bit,” she explained. “It’s really easy for me to associate a place with an activity I have to do. My mindset is already preparing for a specific activity before I reach that location.” At home, she put a few practices in place to improve her efficiency and motivation. She always changes her clothes, “I can’t stay in my pajamas.” She has a designated workspace and a desk. She found an elegant solution to put her in work mode while in her home office—the coveted dual monitor! “The dual monitor has replaced a place, my office in Parker, that I associate with work.”   
Ellia La

Despite these challenges, Ellia has found ways to keep her work going remotely. Her research focuses on different types of light treatments and how they affect color and she was able to bring home a radiometer—an  instrument that quantifies the dosage of various frequencies of energy in the UV/Vis range. Ellia has been using it with the California sunshine to explore how she can use measurements of electromagnetic radiation to quantify the amount of light absorbed by the sensor. In addition to exploring the radiometer and studying for her candidacy exam, Ellia is also preparing for IFT20 in July. She will participate in an oral competition in the food chemistry division, share her work at the New Research Showcase stage, and present in the poster exhibition. You can preview her poster here.

An extrovert in a shelter-in-place world, Ellia has found a creative way to stay connected to friends across the country during quarantine—Zoom work dates! “It’s like working in the library with a friend.” She plans to keep them up in the future. “Grad school requires me to be incredibly independent; it almost feels like I’m in my own little bubble, but with Zoom dates I can still reconnect with friends from home or some people I don’t get to see because of spatial or time differences.”

Beyond Zoom, Ellia has taken advantage of other online tools to stay engaged from home. She uses webinars to explore topics she might not have otherwise. “This situation has made it so a lot of companies, organizations, and universities have made everything available online. It’s great for people with disabilities or who are less mobile and also for people like me who have more passions than their bodies can keep up with,” La explained. She hopes organizations will continue to offer online resources post COVID, as well. “Sometimes in grad school you’re too exhausted to go to main campus or a seminar might interfere with your schedule. But if these webinars continue, I can tune in while running experiments!”  

Outside of FST, Ellia has devoted her time to activism, a passion she had not had as much time to devote to during pre-COVID life. “With the social change and revolution happening around coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve been doing more organizing,” Ellia said. She has reconnected with friends from middle school to organize to address education and racial justice in her high school district. “I’m connecting with people I haven’t connected with in a really long time … After all this time we are coming together for this revolutionary movement and our paths are crossing again. I find that so funny and also inspirational and energizing.” Her passion for structural equity and her excitement to be able to be involved in a deeper way are apparent, even through Zoom. Ellia is bringing that passion to the university level as well. “I am currently in the beginning stage of organizing with other graduate academics in CFAES to address injustices happening under the institution of academia. I would love for my fellow scientists, friends, and mentors to support our mission!” 

Like so many of us, Ellia La has found herself in a situation she never expected. “It’s wild. I never thought I would experience something like this,” she said. But Ellia is making the most of this unprecedented time. Practicing flexibility, exploring passions beyond academics, and getting re-involved in community organizing have turned this wild experience into opportunities for personal development and societal change.