Sciencing with a chronic illness: Tips, tricks, & technology

*This is a guest post by Elita Baldridge.**

This is the third in a series of posts about my experiences completing a PhD with a chronic illness (Part 1, Part 2, and background information).

Not only is this about the tools that I used to complete my PhD, but I am optimistic that these tools/coping mechanisms will allow me to be a scientist that gets paid for doing science.

The tips & tricks:

Remote work: Working remotely accommodated the variability in my functioning levels, and allowed me to be as productive as possible without having to allocate most of my energy to getting to/working at a physical location or trying to conserve enough energy so that I could make it home on the bus (since I can’t drive anymore).

Ergonomics: Finding what triggered more discomfort and what allowed me to work for longer periods of time really helped make it possible for me to finish up.

  • Laptop of Science & a desktop, running Synergy to run one mouse and keyboard for both computers.
  • Monitor risers to prevent fatigue.
  • Kneeling chair to avoid obnoxious pressure points on hips, back and arms.
  • Wrist rests galore.
  • Kinesis Freestyle 2 keyboards, one for desk work with the dual machine setup, one for a reclining setup with just the Laptop of Science.)

Travel: Travel is dreadful. It involves a lot of discomfort while traveling, plus a lot of discomfort for weeks after. The thing that I am traveling for had better provide enough benefits to me that it is actually worth it because it is truly, truly unpleasant (of the crying and vomiting from pain variety). Remote attendance is vastly preferred.

However, if I really, really must:

  • Grabber 12+ hour Peel N’ Stick body warmers, which make it possible to function on a reasonably human level most of the time.
  • Cane or forearms crutches
  • Wheelchair service in airports/Redcap on trains. (Voice of Experience: When you are asked if you can get to places on your own, up stairs, etc., select “no” if the answer is “yes, but it will be exceptionally unpleasant and there may be crying, whimpering, or falling over”.)
  • Rest day after travel/accommodations really close to wherever you are supposed to be.
  • Electric blanket for hotel (as full body heat pad)\
  • Small travel blanket (for padding uncomfortable chair backs, etc.)

The technology:

Version control: Using version control (I used GitHub) allowed for a more efficient workflow between me & dissertation collaborators (mostly Ethan, but also Xiao Xiao), plus I was insulated against the effects of cognitive dysfunction through commit messages, issues, and the ability to revert commits.

Kubi: A teleconferencing robot that allowed me to turn my (remote) head and look at people when they were speaking through whatever teleconferencing system we were using. I cannot say enough good things about how much this made me feel more like a part of whatever was going on.

Web conferencing: We tended to use browser based options Google Hangouts or Firefox Hello for this, but Skype is another option as well, I just had some difficulty getting it to behave well on my laptop.

Live-streaming: For my defense, I wanted to make the presentation a demonstration of making a talk accessible, and also how easy this can be. Full details of the accommodations & accessibility statement that I used for my defense are available on the event announcement. I used Google Hangouts on Air to live-stream my defense, then close captioned the talk afterward with the editor available on YouTube. This was all straightforward and took very little time. Handouts were available in advance of the talk, and an accessibility statement was provided with my defense announcement.

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