By Sarah Stone

When Fiber and Polymer Science Ph.D. Student Caitlin Knowles read about a video competition hosted by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), she figured it would serve as a warmup for the right side of her brain. The Nova Scotia, Canada native spends her free time illustrating, producing videos and writing.

“I think I put so much work into this because my Ph.D. has taken up all of my brain for a long time,” Knowles says. “So just taking a tiny weekend to do my own thing is what inspired this one.”

Her task? To create a video no longer than 90 seconds explaining how she adapted to the virtual world during the pandemic. 

“It’s relatively straightforward, but I also probably worked on it for 14 hours on a Saturday,” Knowles jokes. 

The third year doctoral student decided on the style of the video, a narrated illustration, quickly. Knowles first sketched out her illustrations on an iPad before translating them to video. She says she encountered a larger challenge in reflecting on her experience to write the poem. 

“The video had a minute-and-a-half time limit, and I think that that kind of structure is helpful because you know you’re not going to be able to get out all your feelings,” Knowles says. “Instead of just feeling like I need to have perfectly explained all of my emotions, I can sort of structure it.” 

Although difficult, Knowles says taking time to process her feelings of boredom, unease, stress, exhaustion, resolve and hope was also rewarding. 

“Being okay to express that I am overwhelmed and there are a lot of unknowns,” she says.

While other entries focused on industry-specific adjustments such as starting organizations or attending conferences, Knowles shared day-to-day adjustments like baking bread, gardening and doing yoga. She says that approach played a role in the judges’ decision to award her video second place. The honor also comes with $1,500 in prize money. 

“They also commented how they liked how different it was and how it was thoughtful,” Knowles says. 

Now having thought about what she learned during the pandemic, she’s prepared to celebrate a big step towards a return to normal. Next week, Knowles will visit her family in Montreal, Canada for the first time since the pandemic began.