MacArthur Fellows Share Their Workspaces During the COVID-19 Outbreak

MacArthur Foundation
5 min readMay 6, 2020


During the COVID-19 (commonly known as coronavirus) pandemic many of us have responded by adjusting to new schedules and realities by washing our hands more frequently, social distancing, working from home, and more.

We’ve highlighted how MacArthur Fellows have found a number of creative ways to respond to this outbreak, but here some of them showed us their workspaces and their efforts to continue working, all while balancing competing demands in their personal and professional lives.

What workspace have you settled into during this pandemic? Learn more about the science and research that may lead to the end of this global pandemic, and remember to wash your hands!

“Our kids’ bedroom has morphed now into a fourth-grade classroom where my wife and I take turns playing teacher/professor/principal. Inevitably there comes a moment late in the afternoon when we all begin to converge into a single room and whatever lines we had made between work and play and school are cast aside.” — Dinaw Mengestu, Writer

“Toni Morrison, during her speech in receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, said: ‘We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.’

“As I sit in New York City, the center of the pandemic’s storm, I find that I have more time than I have had in years to work on the measure of life. And so, I am doing language as Toni commanded. I am writing, I am reading, I am thinking, and this is what keeps me sane and this is what keeps me whole.” — Nikole Hannah-Jones, Journalist

“I’m in London, working away at my studio, composing and practising most of the day, fearful that the energy will fail, but until it does, trying to keep going. I seem to have forgotten what it is to check in for yet another flight, and I’m loving that amnesia!” — Stephen Hough, Pianist

“I am kept out of Louisiana State University because of a state ‘stay at home’ order, doing classes via Zoom, and participating in too many other meetings. I did bring my microscopes home from my lab, and am catching up on a back log of benthic samples. The project is the detection of oil spill effects on differentially oil-dosed marsh mesocosms. My scopes are set up on my daughter’s ‘teenage era’ desk, and I rinse formalin from the samples outside of the house.” — Nancy Rabalais, Marine Ecologist

“Connecting with students and colleagues has been reassuring and enriching, and yet we yearn to spend time together face to face. Virtual happy hours are terrific, but no substitute for the real thing. I have been talking to folks wrestling with online sexual privacy invasions — the suffering seems more acute than before and just being heard and seen is so key.” — Danielle Citron, Legal Scholar

“I’m working at our dining room table, complete with the Lego Star Wars Death Star my son and I are building. I’m also trying to move into a new job with ProPublica and put together a brand new West Virginia-based nonprofit newsroom.” — Ken Ward, Jr., Investigative Journalist

“The reactors in the lab are all automated and can be monitored remotely — the reactor in the image is treating synthetic human waste. The second image is that of the Alma Mater statue at Columbia which had only me for (brief) company.” — Kartik Chandran, Environmental Engineer

“I was pretty lost, unmoored by working remotely, away from my students and research team, until I looked at my bookshelf and remembered that I have hundreds of years of human history to keep me company. That history is rarely pleasant — I’m working on a new book about a dictator in Mexico, migrants in the United States, and the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution — but it does remind me of our resilience in times of struggle.” — Kelly Lytle Hernández, Historian

“As a composer/conductor, I’m half introvert, half extrovert. The introvert in me (which is the dominant side anyway) is grateful for the chance to spend the next few months thinking, reflecting, studying, and composing here in my studio at my house in Vermont.” — Matthew Aucoin, Composer and Conductor

“I’ve been spending a good amount of time transitioning my large-enrollment introductory lecture course to something that will work for the students. I would say that I’ve been a little anxious, and I’ve found it hard to be productive, although I also recognize that the desire to be productive in a situation like this one is a bit pathological.” — Dimitri Nakassis, Classicist

“A door that closes for my new “office” with my altar at my back has helped me through some highly sensitive Zoom calls — the contents of which I’m trying to shield my sweet son from in our very small house. I feel incredibly grateful to my nurse-practitioner spouse and to my child for our collective efforts to keep our spirits up as we do the best that we can.

“My husband came home the other day and said, ‘How’s MacArthur Middle School going?’ And my son quipped back, ‘MacArthur Middle School: Where Every Kid’s A Genius, Whether They Like It Or Not.’ I truly hope I’m not being that mother! 🤦🏽‍♀️😂” — sujatha baliga, Attorney and Restorative Justice Practitioner

Learn more about how the MacArthur Foundation is responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and supporting nonprofits during the pandemic. We have also shared guidance we have provided with regard to COVID-19 to protect the well-being of our staff, visitors to the Foundation, and people participating in MacArthur convenings. You can also review updates on the CDC website for more general information regarding the situation.



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