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From left: Daniel Luo, Shreyas Hegde, Filippo Screpanti,
and Courtney Johnson​​​

Looking for ways to maintain your mental and physical health in the time of coronavirus and social distancing? You could try some no-equipment workouts. Or visit a virtual museum. Or take some free online courses.

Those are just a few of the wellness resources you will find from Wellness4Researchers, a social media campaign run by three Duke graduate students—Shreyas Hegde, Courtney Johnson, and Filippo Screpanti—and postdoctoral fellow Daniel Luo.

The quartet created the campaign as their team project for the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI), an eight-week, in-depth professional development program offered by The Graduate School. ELI participants work in teams to brainstorm ideas for enhancing the graduate student and postdoc experience at Duke, and then develop a project around one of those ideas. Along the way, they hone their skills in a variety of areas, such as teamwork, communication, and professional adaptability.

The Wellness4Researchers team decided to tackle the important issue of wellbeing. They settled on the idea of a social media campaign to raise awareness about wellbeing by having fellow graduate students and postdocs share information about the wellness activities they participate in on campus.

“The initial aim was to go to student wellness events and ask people to post pictures on Instagram and such,” said Shreyas, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering and materials science.

Their first tweet went out on March 6. Four days later, Duke announced it was severely curtailing campus activity to help contain the spread of COVID-19. The sudden and escalating restrictions forced the team to adapt in real time.

“One of the biggest problems that came out right away is when you are confined and you are asked to practice social distancing, many of these activities are no longer possible,” said Screpanti, a Ph.D. student in Romance Studies. “We had to quickly rethink our project. That’s when we came up with activities you can do at home, because our work habits are still very relevant and stress has increased a lot in these uncertain times.”

Since March 14, the team has been posting information and resources for maintaining wellness while indoors, drawing on things that appeal to their own interests. For instance, Screpanti got the idea for visiting virtual museums from media reports in his native Italy, while Johnson, a Ph.D. student in chemistry who had been training for a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament, offered up indoor workout resources.

It was not by design, but the forced pivot became part of their professional development, underscoring the need to be flexible.

“This was a program meant to give us training on leadership, and we sort of had to learn fast on the spot,” Screpanti said. “It’s been a good experience for us in spite of the crazy situation.”

The ELI program officially ended last Friday with the teams presenting their projects. The Wellness4Researchers crew, though, hopes to keep spreading the word on the importance of wellbeing, especially during this time.

“We want to spread this information throughout the Duke community so that everyone is aware of what resources exist and to understand that in this unprecedented time there is a diverse group of activities you can participate in to stay well,” Johnson said.


You can follow Wellness4Researchers on Twitter and Instagram.

Wellness tweets
A few of the tweets from @Wellness4R