COVID-19 Resources for Neuroscience Graduate Students

AUTHORS: Kathryn Reynolds and Gabriella Mattina



During the creation of this BrainWaves issue, we found ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that each and every one of you is staying healthy and taking care during this difficult time. This unprecedented situation is undoubtedly impacting all of us, whether academically, mentally, physically, and/or financially. To help Neuroscience graduate students cope with the challenges of surviving and thriving during COVID-19, we’ve compiled a list of resources and tips for you to refer back to in the days and weeks to come as we persevere through this pandemic together.




Health


Maintaining both personal and public health is a serious concern during this pandemic. While physical health is undeniably a priority right now, these uncertain times, coupled with prolonged physical distancing, can also be very detrimental to mental health. Graduate students have access to a number of free health resources during this pandemic:

  • If you suspect that you may have COVID-19, complete Ontario’s online COVID-19 Self Assessment Tool. This tool will indicate whether you are eligible for testing, and will also provide you with further instructions for seeking care. Refer to the Hamilton Public Health website for the current status of cases in our community, as well as for tips to protect yourself and others.

  • The McMaster Student Wellness Centre remains accessible to all full-time graduate students. You can access both physicians and mental health counselors remotely via a telephone appointment, or in person only if you have a medical concern that cannot be addressed virtually. To book an appointment, contact the Student Wellness Centre by calling 905-525-9140 ext. 27700 between the hours of 10 am - 2 pm.

  • GSA Health and Dental Benefits include access to the EmpowerMe program. This service offers 24/7 mental health support from professional counselors, in addition to online life coaching resources.

  • CUPE 3906 Teaching Assistants can access a total of five free one-hour counseling appointments, as well as unlimited online resources, through CUPE 3906’s Employee and Family Assistance Program. To book a confidential appointment, contact Homewood Health at 1-800-663-1142, or access their online programming at https://homeweb.ca/.

  • Good2Talk is a free counseling hotline which provides professional support to Ontario students. Contact Good2Talk at 1-866-925-5454 to chat with a mental health professional.

  • GSA Health and Dental Benefits include a mental health benefit valued at up to $100 per visit for a total of $400 in coverage per year, which can be used to access additional external mental health support.

  • A COVID-19 Isolation Relief Support Line has been established by members of the Hamilton community to assist with lending emotional and tangible support during the pandemic. While this group does not offer professional mental health support, they can assist by providing a safe space to talk, as well as by locating resources applicable to your specific situation.




Academics


McMaster University has been releasing regular updates on the status of classes and research as the pandemic progresses. These statements can be found on the McMaster Daily News: COVID-19 website, as well as on McMaster’s Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts (@mcmasteru). The School of Graduate Studies also maintains a COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions page where you can access information regarding graduate courses, research disruptions, financial aid, and working remotely.


Statistics Canada is collecting data regarding the impact of COVID-19 on graduate students. To participate in this survey and have your voice heard by the federal government, click here. Please note that the survey will be closing on May 1st.




Financial Assistance


At the time of publishing, the Government of Canada has just announced a new Canada Emergency Student Benefit for postsecondary students. Between May and August, graduate students with an income of less than $1000 per month will be eligible to receive a benefit of $1250 per month, or $1750 per month for those taking care of others or have a disability. The federal government will also provide additional funding to extend scholarships and grants, as well as a Canada Student Service Grant of up to $5000 for postsecondary students who volunteer towards COVID-19 efforts. The full details of this student funding have not yet been released, so keep an eye on the Government of Canada Benefits page for further details as they become available.


Keep a close eye on email updates from our CUPE 3906 Teaching Assistant Union regarding eligibility for government aid. CUPE 3906 has been sending out regular emails as updates become available, including advice for filling out online applications and determining eligibility for government assistance. They have also created a helpful COVID-19 resources and information webpage.

 

Some graduate students may struggle financially as the pandemic progresses. Emergency financial assistance is available from McMaster University for those in need.

 

The Insurance Bureau of Canada is offering auto insurance rebates during this period of physical distancing. If you routinely commute to campus, contact your insurance provider to request these rebates, as they will not be applied to your account automatically.

 



Coping

 

It is completely normal to feel anxious, distracted, and unproductive during this unprecedented time. The profound disruptions to our everyday lives, as well as concern for not only our personal health but also the wellbeing of our families and friends, may lead to difficulties coping with the current situation. The Waterloo CBT Clinic offers an excellent list of strategies for battling COVID-19-related anxiety, which focus on trying to create a sense of normalcy in the midst of abnormal circumstances. The full list can be found here, but some highlights include:

  • Limit your exposure to the news (~30 minutes per day)

  • Maintain a daily schedule

  • Set daily achievable goals 

  • Intentionally schedule time each day for enjoyable activities, as well as for productive activities

  • Engage in regular physical exercise

  • Connect virtually with friends and family

 

Finding ways to maintain our social networks can help with finding a sense of “new normal.” To aid in this, SOMA has recently created virtual meet-up spaces to foster academic and non-academic connections within the Neuroscience Graduate Program. You can view all currently planned events in the “Survival of the MiNDS” Google Calendar. Note: Make sure to add this calendar to your Google account using a computer. Once you have added and synced the calendar, click the link in the event description to attend a virtual meet-up. If you have any suggestions or would like to lead a virtual event yourself, please reach out to SOMA or Aya Dudin (dudina@mcmaster.ca).

 

SOMA is currently hosting the following events:

  • Academic Writing: Inspired by the Thesis Writing Bootcamp, take part in a 3 hour writing block to promote structured and goal-driven writing. This consists of 30 minutes to set SMART goals, 2 hours of writing, then 30 minutes to assess progress and discuss your process with others. This event is already helping students keep to a schedule and make academic progress during this uncertain time.

  • Data Analysis: Are you unsure how to best analyze your data? The more MiNDS on the problem, the better! So far, this group has discussed protocols for analyzing fluorescence microscopy within the Neuroscience Graduate Program’s Slack channel. Note: If you're not on the Neuroscience Graduate Program's Slack channel already, make sure to activate your account to keep up to date and connect with your peers!

  • Games Night: Take part in virtual group games on Houseparty and other free online game apps.

  • Creative Hangout (no experience required!): Exercise your creative side by following along with a Bob Ross video, or exploring arts, crafts, knitting, creative writing, colouring, or photography projects. So far, this group has learned how to make decorative paper stars to cheer up their quarantine spaces.

 



Physical Activity

 

Having the motivation to become physically active can be challenging during a pandemic - we may feel confined to our homes, have no access to gym equipment, or be experiencing a lot of stress. With that being said, taking time to be physically active may be more important than ever, not only for our physical health, but also for our mental wellbeing. Countless studies have shown the positive benefits of physical exercise, from reducing the risk of chronic diseases to reducing anxiety and improving mood. 

 

That’s where online virtual fitness comes into play! Several fitness instructors in the Hamilton area, including the Neuroscience Graduate program’s own PhD candidate Gabriella Mattina, have teamed together to offer virtual fitness classes to help keep the community active since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As licensed Zumba® and Strong by Zumba® instructors, they are providing these two class formats free throughout these upcoming weeks, with classes offered in the mornings and evenings to accommodate different schedules. No equipment necessary!

 

What is Zumba®? It is a cardio-based dance exercise program that combines Latin and other popular music with several different musical styles, including salsa, cumbia, merengue, reggaeton, and other international rhythms. It’s a fun way to stay active, You don’t need to be a dancer to try a class - it’s for all ages and fitness levels. If dancing is “not your thing”, then a Strong by Zumba® class may be for you! This is a 30 or 60 minute high intensity interval training (HIIT) class that combines body weight, muscle conditioning, cardio and plyometric training moves synced to the music. There are fitness variations and modifications built into the class, so you can work your way up as you become stronger.

 

Classes are being offered on the Zoom meeting app, and the schedule can be found and accessed on the SOMA Google Calendar. Please note that you need the meeting ID number and a password (which can be found in the calendar description) to join each class. Having your camera on is optional, but is highly suggested. Now is the best time to try a class from the comfort of your home! If you have any questions or would like to be kept up-to-date on any class schedule changes, please email Gabriella Mattina at mattingf@mcmaster.ca. 

 

Can’t make a live class? Not to worry, there are thousands of free exercises and other home workouts (not just Zumba!) available on YouTube to keep you moving. Some suggestions include: