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Conquering the Quarantine: How Knauss Fellows are Overcoming Challenges Brought on by COVID-19

By: Zuzanna Abdala,
2020 Knauss Fellow,
Habitat Science & Policy Analyst,
NOAA Restoration Center


As of April 1st, 2020, the entire DC metro area is under stay-at-home orders. The typically bustling streets of DC are so quiet that you can hear yourself breathing. It’s in times like these that we realize how much we thrive on meeting with people in person, even just for a moment. And this quarantine is especially difficult for this year’s class of Knauss Fellows, both personally and professionally. Not only do we miss the amazing networking opportunities that come with conferences, social events and being in our workplaces but also many of us are still in an adjustment period, having moved to the DC area at the end of January. 


You’d think that these setbacks would leave everyone with some serious apprehension about how to cope. But you’d be wrong. You see, Knauss Fellows are a special breed of people. We are some of the most adaptive, self-starting and resilient people around. Not only do we face challenges head-on but we will also find solutions and make improvements on previous efforts.


To overcome some of the personal challenges brought on by the quarantine, fellows have taken advantage of newfound free time and video-chatting platforms by:


  • Setting up weekly video meetings with friends and family members;
  • Getting their flow on with Zoom- and YouTube-based yoga instructors;
  • Getting creative with working out
  • Learning how to bake bread, make pasta, draw digitally and even speak a new language (!);
  • Coordinating long-distance movie time with Netflix Party, a Chrome extension that syncs up movie-watching with friends and integrates a chat feature;
  • Knitting, crocheting, needle-pointing and cross-stitching at our weekly Craft Night;
  • Engaging in friendly competition with friends through apps like Houseparty; and
  • Fostering a cat AND her kittens. 


2020 Knauss Fellow Kirsten Rhude had the bright idea to establish a “Great Knauss Bake-Off” where we have themed weekly baking challenges. From beginners in bread-making to masters of macarons, fellows are joining in the light-hearted competition, which will be judged purely on appearance for now, until we’re free to roam. 



Additionally, we’ve been hard at work to make sure we’re still engaging in professional development and networking, including:


  • Volunteering for Skype a Scientist, a program that matches scientists with classrooms around the world;
  • Performing in a virtual science-focused storytelling event hosted by The Story Collider;
  • Developing Knauss Fellow-produced YouTube videos on science and policy topics;
  • Calling nieces and nephews and sharing fun science facts and stories;
  • Peeking at colleagues’ calendars to find out about virtual events or webinars; and
  • Making progress on writing theses and dissertations, and even defending via Zoom!


To initiate some approachable networking for my cohort, I decided to call on Knauss Alumni to engage with our 2020 Fellows in one-on-one virtual mentoring. Thus, the Knauss Alumni Mentoring Match-Up was born, which will improve our social connections with Knauss Alumni. 


And lastly, thoughtful words from another 2020 Knauss Fellow, Brittany Schieler:


“Be patient and kind with yourself. It’s important to remember that we are not just teleworking under otherwise normal circumstances. Take care of yourself both emotionally and mentally during this time – it will pay dividends down the road!”


Although we may not be able to navigate this fellowship year in the same manner as our alumni counterparts, this situation has created opportunities for thoughtful and swift problem-solving, strong communication and creative thinking. We have come together to build a united front to help each other ascend this very tall, very intimidating hurdle. Going through this time of uncertainty with my incredibly inspiring Knauss cohort behind me, I can see the hurdle shrinking. Nothing can stop a bunch of Knauss Fellows from persevering through a whirlwind of challenges and obstacles. Not even a global pandemic.


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