Starting a new job during a pandemic – three months in

Dr Tom Ritchie shares his experiences of joining the Education Incubator in March 2020 and gives an update on the work and developments undertaken in response to the COVID-19 crisis. As part of his role at the Incubator, Tom will write monthly blogs on the Incubator, project impact, and wider themes in HE.


I am the new Project Manager for the Education Incubator. Before starting my role here at Exeter, I completed my PhD in the History of Science with the University of Kent and Science Museum in London.

I joined the Incubator on 16th March 2020, a week before Boris Johnson announced the new UK lockdown measures. Sarah Dyer (Director of the Incubator) and I had initially planned for me to work from home for a week or two, before moving down from London to Exeter; fast-forward nearly three months and like many colleagues, I am still working from home over 200 miles away from campus. Becoming part of a new team remotely under such unusual circumstances was quite something, but I felt welcome right away!

As has been the case for everyone studying and working within HE during this period, the impact that COVID-19 has had on the Education Incubator have been myriad. Perhaps the biggest challenge caused by this situation was for our current cohort of Incubator fellows, who have responded brilliantly by creating contingency plans for their projects, which have ensured that they can deliver their outputs, outcomes, and impacts online. I will write more on these projects in the August blog, which will reflect on projects from the this academic year.

Despite the challenges to the day-to-day working of the Incubator and our projects, the wholesale adoption of online tools that was necessitated by social distancing provided us with a unique opportunity to innovate what we can offer through our different networking events.

The first of these was the Dartington Writing Retreat in May. Despite our worries about how a writing retreat – based around personal interactions and networking – would translate to Microsoft Teams, we organised the event around clear collaborative learning principles.

Incubator fellows quickly got used to Microsoft Teams at our first online Writing Retreat

These principles led us to create Whole Group, Small Group, and Individual sessions for writing and online learning discussions that received great feedback from participants, and a series of blogs that will be posted on here over the next few months. The success of this approach has led us to plan similar events for the near future, which we will post on our events page soon.

We are also excited to translate these principles to our first online Incubator Café from 6th-10th July, in which we are hosting over sixty sessions for our current and new fellows to showcase their projects through Microsoft Teams. If you are interested in seeing what sessions are available, and want to sign up, please click here!

I will post my next blog after the Incubator Café in early July. That blog will discuss the benefits and challenges of the the online approach we have taken for the event, as well as the new CaST (Communities and Students Together) project we are working on in 2020/21.


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