How has the coronavirus outbreak affected your life as a researcher? (Part 1)

The coronavirus pandemic has caused sorrow for lost loved ones and a major shock worldwide forcing people to re-think how they can continue work while staying at home or practising ‘social distancing’. We’ve asked researchers from our Sparrho Community to share their stories. Read the first part here about how your fellow scientists are coping during this difficult time.

Doctor standing in the middle of a crowd of people

Shawna FooShawna Foo, Coral reef biology and ecology researcher, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, Arizona State University.

(19/3/20) I have been working remotely for the past year so the current COVID-19 pandemic has not really affected my working situation. As I am currently not doing experiments and the time at home has allowed me to focus on analysing and writing up manuscripts, and catching up on new research. 

I stay sane and connected with my group through regular zoom meetings and phone calls and I make sure to get some fresh air every day so I don't get too stir crazy. 

One thing I hope could come from this experience is the inclusion of "remote" conference attendance. All the conferences I wish to attend require expensive travel and accommodation, not to mention the increased carbon footprint. During this pandemic, people have had to move thesis defences, teaching, workshops etc online and the same can be done for conferences. 

Nothing beats meeting scientists in person, but the remote conference option would be a lot more inclusive and connect many more scientists that would normally miss out on hearing about all the latest science in their field.

Learn more about Shawna’s research here.

Lap Hing ChiLap Hing Chi (Leo), PhD student studying cancer biology and specialising in breast cancer metastasis, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, Victoria, Australia.

(19/3/20) At the moment, a lockdown hasn’t been imposed and we can still work full-time in the lab. However, due to the worsening situation in Australia, we’re proactively minimising social contact within our groups. 

We’ve set up two teams to work on alternate days so that if one team is affected by the virus, the other team can carry out the remaining experiments. The general feeling here is that no more non-essential new experiments should be started, which is quite frightening for those of us who are trying to finish manuscripts with planned experiments. We’re not sure how this will affect animal experiments yet. I’m hoping that mice currently under my care can make it to the endpoint (some of these experiments take half a year to complete).

In terms of my everyday life, it’s getting harder to purchase essential groceries since last week. Items like toilet paper, flour and pasta are gone in the supermarkets because of a sudden increase in demand. 

A lot of professional and personal meetings have been cancelled due to COVID-19, and we’re moving to online meetings or chats which are quite new to me. Other than these, everything appears to be normal. 

At the moment, I can commute to work by cycling as usual. We also can get parking vouchers for driving to work. For wet-lab researchers like me, conducting work from home is nearly impossible, especially because of the need to take care of our animals. 

I can conduct bioinformatics analysis or read papers to write reviews from home if it comes to the worse, but doing only them will significantly stall my PhD. I wouldn’t mind isolation personally as long as I can do some sort of work. It might be a good time to focus on reading, writing and learning computer-based techniques.

My mom is actually in Wuhan which is still in lockdown. I’m spending a lot of time refuting conspiracy theories and misinformation she’s constantly getting from social media. Responsible reporting of the current situation and up-to-date scientific findings is desperately needed."

Read more about Leo’s research here.

Indrani BanerjeeIndrani Banerjee, researching alternative gravity models and their implications in astrophysics and cosmology at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, India

(31/3/20) COVID-19 has been spreading very rapidly and despite strong precautionary measures, over fifty people in India died and over a thousand got affected due to this disease. Since the last two weeks, India has entered the complete lockdown phase. It has been declared by the Central and the State Government to not leave our homes unless it is an absolute emergency.

The slogan "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" has become quite popular in India. Consequently all the schools, colleges and universities are closed for an indefinite time. All public and social gatherings are being completely stopped. Travelling is getting absolutely restricted since many flights and trains are cancelled due to the lockdown. The awareness programmes regarding the precautionary measures to prevent the disease are on and are being constantly showcased in the television and newspapers. People are requested to wear masks in the streets, use hand sanitizers and wash their hands frequently.

This lockdown phase has turned out to be toughest for the daily wagers and their state of affairs is turning miserable by the day. Funds are being raised by several business tycoons, celebrities and also the government employees nationwide to stand by the destitute in their days of need.

Needless to say, researchers are no less sufferers in this lockdown period. Most of them have to work completely from home and in India this is not a very common practice. Therefore, this is affecting the speed and efficiency of the work for many researchers. All upcoming conferences, schools, workshops and seminars have been cancelled or postponed. My friends living abroad are not allowed to visit India and my colleagues who were supposed to visit abroad had to cancel their trips.

Overall COVID-19 has completely turned our daily lives topsy turvy leaving a deep impact in each one of our lives. We pray that we conquer this lethal disease so that the triumph of human race gets established once again.

Read more about Indrani’s research here.

Stephen WongStephen Wong, 4th-year graduate student at the Genome Institute of Singapore, A*STAR, focusing mainly on drug resistance and metastasis in colorectal cancer. 

(19/3/20) Since the COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, it has been a trying time for us as students and scientists alike. 

In A*STAR, we are going through trials to adopt a split team work schedule; half the institute will work for one week, and the other half for the following week. 

There is definitely a slowdown in terms of research output, and there is an additional workload as we have to help our friends and colleagues with their work when they are away for the week, and vice versa. 

As a biologist, a major bulk of the work involves cell culture and in vivo work, and it is nearly impossible to work from home. However, in light of the situation, we all have to cooperate and work together as a team. I guess now might be a good time for me to catch up on my bioinformatics analyses as well as writing up my thesis during the weeks that I am away from the lab.

Read more about Stephen’s research here.

For me, daily life in Singapore remains mostly the same, although the feeling of apprehension lingers around. I think the feeling of isolation is inevitable, especially in countries with mandatory lockdowns and laws in place to restrict movement. 

In these times, I will constantly remind myself that these measures are necessary to help curb the situation and it is for the better for the people I love, if not for me. 

I will check in on people whom I care about constantly to make sure they are doing well and letting them know that they are not alone. 

On a lighter note, Final Fantasy VII Remake is out and that might be a good companion for the weeks while you’re at home!

We are looking forward to hearing from more of our Sparrho researchers. In the meantime check out this pinboard with a collection of research papers published in 2020 since the 2019-nCov outbreak.


by Sparrho

Steve, the sparrow, represents contributions from the Sparrho Team and our expert researchers. We accredit external contributors where appropriate.