Last fall I reflected about the world that PhD students like me are facing, based on the insights of speakers at the Emerging Leaders in Chemical Engineering plenary session. I came to the conclusion that it is essential to explore different opportunities outside the lab for building a rewarding research career.

That was last October, and a great deal has changed since then. Not only am I exploring opportunities outside of the lab, the current COVID-19 crisis is keeping me from even getting back into the lab. And so, from my home-based office, I am now revisiting the question of how to envision my work and my career under these extraordinary circumstances. Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies asked me to share some thoughts on these questions, and I am pleased to do likewise with CIC News.

I believe we can look at the current situation as an opportunity to grow rather than a threat. According to a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, and an optimist sees an opportunity in every difficulty”. If the fact we are stuck in our homes is a difficulty, we can shift our mindset to a more optimistic view and take advantage of this downtime to become more strategic, creative, and resilient — skills highly appreciated by employers. This quote suits Churchill’s personality as an effective leader during World War II, when he was able to inspire and motivate people to successfully overcome that major crisis. I recently learned of his story and extraordinary leadership from a book from which I will borrow some ideas and apply them to our current situation.

How can we develop our professional skills while we are at home? Let’s start with framing the crisis and lowering our anxiety levels. We first have to understand the context in which we are embedded and then start acting. If not, we may get mesmerized and overwhelmed by a flood of information (and misinformation) out there.

Start by envisioning yourself when it is over. We have to believe that we are being prepared to become stronger and resilient to deal with any other difficult situation we may encounter in the future. Picture yourself celebrating a victory over the crisis and being proud of ourselves that we successfully went through this together.

Someday, people might ask you: what did you do during lockdown? If you use your time wisely, you can develop a plan to innovate yourself and your professional profile. You can learn new skills that can make you more marketable by taking courses online (many of them are free), as well as attending webinars or virtual networking events.

In other words, focus on what skills you need to shape for a successful career and invest your time right now! LinkedIn offers great resources for taking courses online, and the first month trial is free. Coursera is another platform with a variety of online courses also for free. Create your own strategy to get through the quarantine and to climb out of it. We all want to thrive! So, we may reinvent ourselves to be competitive in the post-COVID-19 world.

As I mentioned previously, we should see COVID-19 as an opportunity to become the best version of ourselves. The hardship we are encountering now will make us stronger, proud, and more confident down the road. Just believe that we are preparing ourselves for a brighter future. By acting optimistically, you can also inspire others to take action towards their own self-development. I believe that our emotions can be as contagious as the virus, so we may be bold, courageous, and fearless enough to “infect” other people with positive emotions as well.

I want to wrap up my article saying that this situation is new to everyone, and we are definitely in this together. I would rather face the situation with optimism, humour, and why not a bit of poetry?! Think this way: one day, you will be hanging out with your children, nephews, or nieces and you will tell them about your story during the coronavirus pandemic. What story do you want to tell them? Now, it is your time to create a brave and beautiful story to share with these future generations.