Within months of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that the social and physical impacts of the pandemic varied dramatically across demographics: the elderly and African Americans suffered higher mortality rates, while women—and particularly mothers of young children—bore the impact of school and day care closures. Furthermore, the pandemic exacerbated issues in the workplace, such as the disparity of workloads both at home and in the office.
For university professors, the methods of teaching shifted dramatically. Courses were moved entirely online, resulting in increased time spent on course prep and research. Like many other professionals, faculty were also forced to find time to manage childcare and homeschooling.
Rachel Wheeler, chair and professor of religious studies at the IU School of Liberal Arts, recognized this problem and assembled a team of IUPUI faculty to develop an app, COVIDCV, that allows individuals to document burdens and challenges posed by the pandemic.
The team is now moving to a broader app, RealCV, which will use artificial intelligence to translate work that often goes unacknowledged, frequently called “invisible labor,” into a set of skills, such as strategic planning, project management and communications, that will be legible to current and potential employers.
Wheeler expressed several of the core ideas behind the creation of RealCV in a 2020 essay, My Real CV, which drew attention to the ways that women’s CVs often grew more slowly than men’s because women are more likely to oversee domestic duties at home and invisible labor at work. The essay also highlighted the negative effects of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.
Wheeler applied for special research funding, which Indiana University made available to faculty seeking to help combat COVID-19 and its negative effects, with an initial team including Aaron Ganci, associate professor of visual communication design at the Herron School of Art; Rajeev Raje, associate dean for planning, finance, and faculty affairs and professor of computer and information science at IUPUI’s School of Science; and Jane Williams, associate dean for academic affairs and strategic initiatives and associate professor of psychology at IUPUI’s School of Science. With this funding, the researchers were able to hire Umesh Raja, a graduate student in computer science, and build an app that allowed users to create a way to memorialize their pandemic experience.
The project received additional funding and research support from the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute. Additionally, the project benefited significantly from the researchers’ participation in a start-up bootcamp for faculty entrepreneurs which was organized by IU’s Innovation and Commercialization Office (ICO).
With the addition of Hyeju Jang, an assistant professor of computer & information science at IUPUI’s School of Science, and a translational grant from ICO, the team is developing an AI-assisted functionality that enables individuals to contextualize their work. The researchers hope the app’s capabilities will contribute to more equitable workplaces, while also spotlighting how the pandemic has changed people’s ability to balance their responsibilities at work and at home.
“Our team is currently at a major transition point, moving from our CovidCV app to a new, more comprehensive RealCV app that will help users to ‘find’ their hidden skills developed in both their home and work lives and translate them into terms legible to current or potential employers,” Wheeler said. “For instance, a parent who shoulders the primary responsibility for managing an autistic child’s care has valuable workforce skills that likely never appear on their resume. Our hope is that the app can help women and minority candidates find the jobs that match their ambition and skills.”
Currently, Wheeler’s development team is working to harness Natural Language Processing and AI capabilities to create the building block for the RealCV platform.
Bri Heron, technology marketing manager at Indiana University’s Innovation and Commercialization Office, contributed this story.