President’s Letter—The New Normal

The “New normal” was a term that arose during the 2007–2008 financial setbacks, and it has been used periodically since then. Again apropos, the term has emerged recently in the popular press. This new normal has its own vocabulary: social distancing, flattening the curve, N95 masks, Zoom and Zoombombing, and others. Many of you are completing a hybrid semester of in-class instruction first, then a break (for the students, that is), then a pivot to online distance learning for the remainder of the semester. Others (including me) had a crash course in online instruction and reconfigured a quarter-length course, and now are in the middle of this new experiment.

Working from home is the new normal for many of us, and it has required a number of adjustments. The new normal required us to identify the best possible work space; organize and dress for online meetings; split the workday to educate, supervise, and entertain our children; cool the extreme happiness of our pets because we’re home all day for “endless” attention and walks; and enjoy lunchtimes with our family or housemates. Maybe it’s not all bad: having more flextime to exercise during the day, then work a bit more in the evening? listening to Patrick Stewart reading a sonnet a day? viewing musical performances and exercise classes online, giving us access to performances and expertise? I hope you have taken part in these and other activities to reduce stress and anxiety.

Let us take advantage of this new normal to update, innovate, and change our working lives for the better. Share your stories with your ASPB colleagues, and read about their experiences, on Plantae. There are lots of discussion boards to support you as you adjust to the new normal. For example, join the discussion on the “Research Shut Down Support Thread,” and find suggestions for online teaching resources. What working and teaching arrangements have worked well for you? What has not worked well? What would you do differently if you had to do this again? Check out thoughts from one of our members at Or start your own thread; contact Katie Rogers for assistance (

Staying connected can help you stay healthy, both physically and mentally. Check out the World Health Organization’s #HealthyAtHome Challenge video on what you can do at home. Make new connections: congratulate our 2020 ASPB award winners, or reach out to that colleague you’ve been thinking about. Look forward to sharing food and drink with colleagues, as shown in the photos of friends from far and near at Plant Biology 2019. And finally, thank your local first responders and those who have stayed working for all of us. Pharmacists, staff in your office or department, mailpersons, grocery store clerks, bus drivers, and package and grocery delivery drivers are a few among the many who work to keep us safe and functioning in the new normal.

Together at PB19
Friends from far and near at Plant Biology 2019.

Continuing with the Trans­parency Project, I would like you to get to know our new Education Committee chair, Erin Friedman (current committee members). I asked her a few questions, and her answers are in the below.

For updates on ASPB and COVID-19, please visit Stay safe and healthy.

Meet Erin Friedman, Education Committee Chair

To help members get to know you, how did you get into plant science?

Erin FriedmanMy dad, Steve Browder, has a PhD in plant physiology and taught biology at Franklin College, a small primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) in central Indiana. Some of my earliest childhood memories include running around campus, coloring on lecture handouts, and even attending ASPP meetings. I wouldn’t say it was inevitable that I ended up as a plant scientist teaching at a PUI, but I probably didn’t surprise anyone, either!

Although I’ve always loved biology, it was Jim Shinkle’s plant physiology course at Trinity University that really sealed the deal. A lab experiment in the course led to an independent research project investigating the effects of UVB radiation on cucumber seedling root growth, which ultimately led to me pursuing a PhD under the guidance of Alan Jones at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was (and still am) fascinated by the range of stresses that plants can tolerate.

What do you value about your ASPB membership?

ASPB is the community that I didn’t know I needed. In graduate school, I was immersed in a local community of plant scientists, but when I moved to central Virginia to begin my PUI career at the University of Lynchburg, I was suddenly the only plant molecular biologist on campus. When I joined the Education Committee that same year, I quickly found a place in the larger ASPB community. The true beauty of ASPB is that our members represent a wonderfully diverse group of passionate and engaged individuals; their excitement about plant science is contagious, and I’ve been able to bring that back to my students.

Thank you for your service as chair of the Education Committee. As you begin your leadership, is there anything in particular you would like your committee to focus on? Any thoughts about the committee that you would like to share?

I am fortunate to work with a committee of motivated, dedicated, and creative individuals. Education and outreach is an incredibly broad umbrella, and our biggest challenge has been balancing our limited time, budget, and cognitive bandwidth with our lofty goal of eradicating plant blindness in K–16 students and the general public. One goal I have as chair is to identify gaps in our current catalog of educational offerings and then leverage ASPB programs like Plant BLOOME and Transforming Education in Plant Biology to generate new resources we can share with the community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a “new normal” in our lives. How has it affected your teaching?

I chose to teach at a PUI because forming relationships with my students is one of the most rewarding aspects of my teaching. I can tell when my students are confused, excited, overwhelmed, or bored just by walking into the room and seeing their faces. I can even sometimes get them to laugh (or at least roll their eyes) at my nerdy jokes.

I’m now teaching online, and I genuinely miss my students. I find it hard to determine when to launch into greater detail or just move on with difficult content. I don’t know how they’re feeling most of the time (and I know some are really struggling), and I miss our informal conversations in the hallways. Teaching from home also brings new challenges—my husband (a high school math teacher) and I now share a “classroom,” and we’ve added our 7- and 10-year-old boys to our rosters. We’re doing our best to continue on, but it certainly can be stressful.

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