Ilya Bogorad, Interviewed by Jordyn MacWhirter
Interviewer: Jordyn MacWhirter: University of Guelph Student
Interviewee: Ilya Bogorad: Executive Director of Planning for the OVC
Date of Interview: 02/10/2023
So, to begin, what was your job when the pandemic started? Was it still this position you are in today?
What do you do as the Executive Director of Strategy and Planning for the Ontario Veterinary College?
So I’m responsible for making sure the college stays its course, and that its project aligns with the strategic priorities. That everyone who works here has the resources that they need to be effective in their jobs, and you know I'm responsible also for things such as finance, strategy… sorry, physical plans and IT.
Perfect. How did your job change after the physical campus of the university mostly shut down?
My personal job has not changed because I can do the vast majority of it remotely but of course the whole COVID agenda and all the operational changes that came from it, basically were edits to my job as well as many other people.
What parts of the OVC continued operating throughout this time?
Well, if we are talking about the campus, we ran our hospital operations differently, so for the very peak of the pandemic, we only had emergency services operating there, but it changed as the pandemic progressed. As for the rest of the folks, many worked remotely, and most people worked remotely. I think I worked remotely 60-70% of the time.
That lined up with my next question of, how did the work at the hospitals change? Did you experience the backlog that also occurred in the human hospitals and how did you recover from that?
So, certainly as what we are experiencing in human healthcare now, the elective procedures were postponed, the major change to the hospital's operations were heightened infection control measures, everything we all did… masking and whatnot. But also things like clients were not allowed inside the hospital, whereas typically clients would come to the reception and sit there, and very often they would come to the exam room with their pet and so on. Now what did happen is that we, as almost every, probably every veterinary clinic in the country, the continent, is that there was a curbside check-in. So people will essentially hand to us their pets, the animals, I should say, from their cars.
I didn't know that. That's actually very interesting.
It wasn't that great, believe me.
Oh yeah, I can imagine. It was not the smoothest system, considering it's never happened before. And then as you responded to the numerous shutdowns, obviously there were multiple. Were there any major concerns that occurred at the OVC? Like anything that was really jarring or really prominent that came about with the shutdowns?
I think the most acute problem was experienced by our students, as you can probably figure out, training of veterinarians is very hands-on. So it's not exactly the same as, let's say, an English major where you can do like 99% of work remotely, whereas here we're talking about hands-on labs and stuff like this. And so what did happen with those encounters, those learning encounters, is that where we could transition into remote model of learning we did and where it wasn't possible, the group sizes were made much smaller and infection control measures were implemented, at the very least, in line what was recommended and very often sort of exceeding them with regards to capacities and so on. But it was a challenging experience for our students. Student mental health is a hot topic and the whole pandemic really didn't help it. And so we do know that many people did struggle. It was certainly evident for veterinary students.
Obviously. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense considering there's so much pressure to get into such an exclusive graduate program. So I imagine as the shutdowns were occurring, that was very difficult on everyone. My next question is how have things changed with your position in the OVC? Were there any good or bad changes? And were there any inefficient aspects of your job that kind of got smoothed out throughout the pandemic? As for an example, many people realized that a lot of their job could be done remotely. So the whole coming into the office thing every single day was kind of inefficient to some people's work life.
Yeah. So it's almost like looking for the silver lining. Don't let a good crisis go to waste. Well, I think two things did happen. I think one thing is certainly the use of remote technology. All of a sudden everybody adopted it kind of overnight and the products improved and as we went along, responding to the needs that were kind of identified along the way. So that's one thing. But related to that, I think many people realize that in-person presence, like in-person meetings, for instance, led to a huge waste of time. And so a lot of things apparently can be done via email, but also via an online meeting. The patterns of work have changed. I guess we're talking about inefficiencies so that it's one of them, but like the use of meeting space and so on.
How did you manage your days in a time that almost felt stagnant or repetitive?
If there were days like this, I felt like two things. First of all, kind of having a process, if you will, or routine really helps when you just follow the pattern that's one thing. But the second thing, which I think many people became aware of, is that if you do feel that you're not productive, it is better to take a breather and then be productive having kind of rested and maybe cleared your own head, having taken a walk or something like this, as opposed to trying to push.
And did you ever consider permanently working remotely if this was an option or was it ever an option for your position?
I can probably work remotely 80% of the time, but I choose to be here.
Yeah, just the work-life balance. I understand. And how was your transition back to work and how did you feel about returning and did that opinion change once you got settled? Like, did you dread coming back to in-person once you got so settled into the shutdown routine at all?
No, I was looking forward to it. I think what I will say is that there were two sort of interesting parts of that transition. So the first is when you work remotely and you only see people on the screen and then all of a sudden you see the same people in flesh and blood surface person. I think many people would say that it felt a little bit weird. So that was one kind of transition. And second transition is when we stopped masking and also sort of it felt a little bit weird not to see people with a mask on and not wearing a mask itself.
From your best memory, when do you think the mask mandate got lifted for the OVC, specifically? If you were to put a time frame on it.
When it was lifted for the university, essentially no sooner. It's interesting, and I talked to a few people about it. This whole, you know, two years and more than two years of pandemic seems like a little bit blurry. It's sort of difficult to put kind of milestones there. I have a good analogy. I was talking to a Canadian who moved to Grand Cayman once, and so when I asked her how she liked living there and she said, like, yeah. The only thing that she missed and something that she found difficult is that, we have seasonality and therefore we can say, well, last winter I did this and that, whereas on Grand Caymen every day is like yesterday. So, you don't really have an anchor to the changing surroundings. This, I think, was very much like this, whereas I know it did happen in the course of the last two years. But to put it somewhere kind of like I often go for my calendar, for instance, to figure out when something happened.
Yeah, that's similar to what happened in the History 1050 class. One of the first questions our professor asked us is when did you think the pandemic ended? And everyone had very varying answers because it really does depend on the circumstances. And it really it did become a blur at many parts because it felt never ending at some parts. That's perfect. And that actually answers some of my next questions. Did the OVC require vacinations and or mask mandate, which we know you answered? They did require mask mandates, but what were the overall safety measures put in place for the OVC as you were returning back to work?
Well, it was totally in line with all of the university with a couple of exceptions. There were cases where we did have, as I said, to run in personal labs and therefore we spent hours, I think, figuring out sort of the new classroom capacities as an example and how many people you can have here or there and stuff like this. This was quite unique to OVC - I know that some other colleges also have in-class activities that cannot be replaced online that's that and then the hospital operations as well. Again, all the precautions are in line with the university policies. But there are cases like when you're doing surgery, for instance, while there are three or four people standing close by. So the modification to the normal routine was that there would never be observers on their own, for example, because like you did want to minimize the interaction.
Okay, perfect. Thank you. And you mentioned that there were a lot of difficulties with the clinical trials. For example, how did that affect the international students coming in for the OVC? Were they able to continue learning through the Guelph OVC or was there kind of like a hold on the international student exchange?
We didn't had a problem with international students who are in the Doctor of Veterinary medicine program. But some of our departments did have a problem with other graduate students like Postdocs and others who just couldn't obtain the visa. We had a couple of cases where these studies had to be pushed back.
Thank you, and then moving on to more of a personal experience what were the most challenging aspects of the pandemic for you?
It wasn't generally unpleasant. I think for me, what I missed the most is the interaction with my colleagues.
And were there any aspects of the pandemic that were good for you? Any learning experiences?
Well, good is probably too kind of a word, but useful takeaways. I think pretty much everybody kind of discovered something like we discovered that we can use technology and we don't have to be in the office every single day to be productive and things like this. But all of that things here as well. I don't think I have any kind of unique learnings or insights very much what other people report.
Yeah. Did you pick up any hobbies over the pandemic that was quite common for people?
No, but I certainly could spend more time might be on the things that needed to be done around the house, for example, because you work and then you feel that you need a break and you do something and you can pull a couple of weeds from your garden.
Yeah, just picking up the little things. Right.
I did find I thought at the time that I was very grateful that I wasn't living, like, in an apartment. And I had a garden as an example, especially in the beginning of the Pandemic, where it was like a shelter in place, which kind of feels almost silly right now, but we live for it.
It does feel silly, doesn't it? I've been talking about that a lot. It's just reflecting back on the Pandemic and all the aspects that are like, that was so strange and almost dystopian.
Yeah. I think you asked me already about this, but I think, for me, once again, it was interesting to observe what the Overton window is. Right?
The window of acceptable ideas. And so, as the new administration were making decisions on, for instance, cancelling specific events and stuff like this at the beginning of the pandemic, so what seemed unthinkable today will be like a no-brainer tomorrow.
That is a good point. And that actually brings up another question, is did you ever find yourself kind of in like an endless loop of you want to plan something and then it just gets cancelled? Or did you kind of completely hold operations for a bit and didn't try to plan something because it was so unknown?
Well, the idea here is to control what you can, and we basically operate it on that basis.
Yeah. And my next question is, how did your team and staff adapt to a working around COVID-19?
I think, as well as we all could, we were productive. We had a lot done for the pandemic.
Perfect. And then as executive director of planning for the OVC, how did COVID-19 change your position's long-term and short-term goals?
I don't think it changed it sort of profoundly. Maybe it has heightened the awareness for the need of good risk management and kind of a foresight thinking forward of what we would do if something kind of happens. The calamities and the ailments like COVID, they exist. You wouldn't remember SARS, but that was a fun exercise as well. And just because we had the veterinary hospital, there's a burden to answer, for instance, that's now known to pass to mammals. So these things do happen. And sort of I think what we all learn is that, yeah, you can't forget about this stuff, but if it happens tomorrow, we will be ready to get into it, because it was a brutal learning experience, but it was a learning experience nonetheless.
Perfect. And is there anything that has permanently changed at The OVC as a result of the pandemic? Anything that in the future, or, for example, the class size is anything like that, that has been permanently altered as a result of the pandemic?
I think it made us more open to I don't know how to say it maybe options and let's say employing people or even holding or conducting sort of education. So, in other words, like, today, we have instead of dedicated spaces, we have hoteling spaces for staff. And so if you're an accountant, you don't have to be here every day. You can just as well work from home, but they come in a couple of two or three times a week as an example.
And then my final question, unless I think of one on the spot, is, if you were to recall one memory of COVID-19, to archive it in history, and to conceptualize the seriousness and experience of the pandemic, what would it be? My example of this was when I was thinking of the question was the COVID-19 passports and how they almost seem a little obscure now. But the fact that we had to show a little QR code to get into places as if they were all locked, I was like, I feel like I'm going to reflect on that in the future and be like, this was a serious thing. It almost felt like the world had stopped
Have you seen The Handmaids Tale?
I have read the book.
Okay. It was shot, among other places, in Cambridge.
Yes! I'm from Cambridge.
So basically by that Mill restaurant, there is this park, and there is, like, an old arch there, like, all of that. And as you get down to the river level, so that wall, all of this is seen in the movie. The horror of this movie is that it's not a period drama. It's not set in, like, medieval Europe. It's not set in, like, even Victorian times or let's say, 100 years ago or something. Like, it looks like it's happening now. And that's what makes it very believable. And so I think as we went through the pandemic, I think you could see how some of the like, I'm not an anti-vaxxer, but you could see how the democratic institutes were challenged along the way. And I think that was very.
I think it was a profound kind of demonstration.
Yeah, that's what I had noted, like, reflecting back on the pandemic as well. I'm not an anti-vax or anything, but it just was so dystopian to think of how quickly our world almost shifted and how quickly it just created such a great divide. And even though we were all experiencing it, everyone really got to experience it in their own way. And just looking back, I feel like that's going to be such like, oh, wow, that happened. And it felt so crazy in the moment.
And connected to that. What you said is the world or our society felt terribly divided based on many issues. Like, you will remember pre-pandemic, the BLM movement, and racial tensions, social tensions based on, let's say, income and things like this. Like, it just felt that the world was already sufficiently fractured. And then the pandemic came, and then there is another divide. There were people who thought that all of this was a conspiracy and it didn't exist. A big divide, like along that line as well. So that didn't feel good. Like we needed another reason to be divided.
Yes, it did feel almost like we were already reaching such a peak. And then there was just a cherry on top that just kind of and that's what created a domino effect for that two to three-year period of just things happening. But it is very interesting, and that's why this project is also so intriguing. Creating an archive on campus. It's a really unique experience and I'm very excited to be able to write it up.
That's good. It's a great project.