An Open Letter on the COVID-19 Crisis to Young Social Science Scholars

  • We should all actively work on improving and protecting our mental and emotional health. There is no hiding the fact that we are in a tough period and we want to do our best to maintain our focus, sanity, and ability to be there for one another. A good consequence of good mental and emotional health is that we also become better scholars.
  • Don’t lose sight of your goals. In times like this some graduate students lose motivation, like our research pales in comparison with the real immediate needs of society. On top of that the job market will likely be immensely stressful in the next few years with fewer jobs available. The anxiety and loss of motivation is understandable and can even cloud your judgment. But give yourself time to process individually and with others. Who knows, you may conclude that the world needs people to step back and try to answer more fundamental questions that we previously ignored, or theories that are woefully incomplete. There might be questions that we hadn’t considered before. Sorting this out could take years to wrap our heads around, for some it might involve a good chunk of your career.
  • A related point is this: if you had a good research project for your dissertation before the virus and coming economic downturn, it is still a good topic! Don’t make the mistake of pursing a “COVID-19” dissertation unless you were already doing something that speaks to this. Keep in mind that many of the challenges raised during WWII were addressed over the subsequent 25–30 years. The impact of that global event unfolded over several careers. In this way your impact may be a post-dissertation topic. It could be a post-tenure topic. It may even be something that not you but your future PhD protégé will advance.
  • Keep thinking about what’s going on, constantly interrogating with the conceptual, methodological, and empirical tools we currently have. This, especially for those like me in a business school, includes the role of organizations, their founders, those who run them, and those impacted by them. It includes the societies, markets, and cultures that organizations are embedded in — which are all evolving at this time.
  • Intently listen to a diverse set of people about what we are collectively going through. Not just to those in the academic community, and not just to business and policy leaders, but also to the barista, the police officer, flight attendant, caregiver, small business owner, the unemployed, the delivery person, etc. Listen and take notes. Combined with your own instincts, interests and skills there may be fertile ground for transformative ideas to emerge in the coming months and years.




Parent. Professor. Sociologist in a B-School. Techie. Writer. Widower. Fan of Jazz and Most Music. Teaching: How to Change the World. Admirer of the Truth.

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Damon J. Phillips

Damon J. Phillips

Parent. Professor. Sociologist in a B-School. Techie. Writer. Widower. Fan of Jazz and Most Music. Teaching: How to Change the World. Admirer of the Truth.

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