Usha received her Ph.D. from the University of Kiel, Germany and her M.Sc. from IIT-Kharagpur, India. A more complete description of her professional activities is found on the University of Manitoba’s website at or on her LinkedIn profile.
Dr. Thiyam-Holländer shared the following on her experience “Teaching in the time of Covid”:
My typical day is hard to describe — it is full of surprises and last-minute reminders and clinging on to my Outlook calendar. I do spend a lot of time preparing online material. And wading through emails that announce, “We're bringing our demo labs to you”, which is exciting; I am looking forward to a growing library of live experiments, recorded in real-time! So, there are positive advancements resulting from this fully online era.
I began this journey in March by learning how to host a YouTube lecture — of course with some help from my academic family members — while still striving to excel with video editing software and posting recorded lectures. Now I am using Microsoft365 teams and multiple portals based on the audience (which changes whether you are with ACS, AOCS, etc) — prior to that it was blue jeans and Zoom.
So, one part of my day involves wrangling the number of webinars being offered during Covid. To help with this, I created a 2020 webinar folder portal. I have managed to attend a few live and recorded webinars via ACS, Select Science, FOSS, Thermofisher, Agilent and Phenomenex amongst others. The overwhelming number of messages that started with “Free webinar—register now!” were rewarding in a few instances. Though I am still struggling to find time, I was happy to share so many webinars with students.
The pedagogical value of using available online webinar material is not as easy, especially from copyright and citation perspectives. For example, if I see a webinar and I instantly like it, and I want to use parts of it for my class (cite it!)—I usually deal with long and painful e-mail threads to get permission to share just a few minutes of clips! One exception I encountered was that I did connect with a Stanford University professor who was more than willing for me to share clips from her webinar. It was very exciting for my students.
Last month I came across a headline that read, “As September approaches, universities prepare for a fall semester unlike any other” and I was wondering what remote teaching would be like. I am happy that the remotely delivered undergraduate seminar course works well with 26 students. Technology glitches have not overtaken our class time. Though things are busier than expected and the amount of time spent on emails and communication has skyrocketed, it did not limit my productivity too much. Perhaps I should simply be thankful that it is all working well! However, I do have fears of COVID affecting any of my loved ones, especially my aging parents.
On the pandemic more generally:
During the pandemic, scientists have shifted their focus a lot. We are either remaining productive or catching up. So far, I have had the chance to read about women researchers and the challenges faced by us during these times — especially childcare issues and the impact on mental health. I also remembered my own maternity leave, navigating remote work with a baby on my lap and a long list of emails awaiting my reply — it seems many more people around the world have had to embrace these lifestyle shifts. It was not easy for me and is not easy for women in general –- we need to credit women scientists more, given all that they juggle! AOCS’ has clearly been encouraging women in science and I am happy to see this, but I believe we can do more!
I am less concerned about my job than my health and safety — protection means a good chance for survival, which is something someone recently said that really spoke to me. Going back to normal will be different, at least for the time being, so the conversation is about a potential “new normal” to which we will have to adapt.
Finally, to help cope with the pandemic, fishing is on my to-do list along with exploring the great Canadian outdoors, gardening and learning more about indigenous Canadian nutrition, native Meitei and Naga indigenous food and culture — somewhere down the road. I have also been reflecting on the impact of the mentorship I received at AOCS on my career – it has been invaluable! Almost 18 years ago, I was very inspired after attending an AOCS annual meeting and highly recommend volunteering for AOCS to our students and young professionals!
On food processing:
Through AOCS’ platform, I am equipped to learn, exchange information and network with knowledgeable colleagues and industry experts. Oilseed processing (raw materials – seed to oil and by-products) and food processing extending to preparing and generating side-streams, grinding and processing grains or coffee beans or even beer is critical to understand today’s nutrition, wellbeing and changing lifestyles. Recently, I extended my research to explore home cooking practices and efficient commercial and industrial methods impacting the mustard antioxidants. It is a very exciting and interesting area to research as practices are changing and new findings are coming in — I want to discover whether you can cook mustard seed in an InstantPot or if you can use the standard oven at home or conduct a lab-based accelerated solvent extraction!