How has the coronavirus outbreak affected your life as a researcher? (Part 2)

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 second part of our series about how your fellow scientists are coping during this difficult time.

coronavirus-crowd800Research in the time of the coronavirus

Maria Pastrama - 1140x1140Maria Pastrama, Post-doctoral researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology, investigating bone and cartilage mechanics using computational and experimental methods to understand mechanical requirements for tissue-replacement biomaterials.

(25/3/20) The day after arriving back from a workshop in Copenhagen I was supposed to leave for a 3-month research stay in Lausanne, Switzerland. I had all my suitcases packed and lying around the living room.

On the next Thursday I was going to attend our regular group meeting at 9 a.m., have some other meetings, go to a workshop on the struggles of young researchers, and then pack my cells in a styrofoam box filled with dry ice.

At 5.30 p.m. my cells and I were going to be picked up by my husband in our tiny car packed with suitcases, orchids and a desktop computer and make our way to Switzerland.

Well, as it happened, all meetings were cancelled the night before, and my Swiss host professor told me to not leave for Lausanne but to "wait until next week".

I’m writing this 2 weeks later. My first rent for the Lausanne apartment has been paid, my university does not allow travel until May 1st, borders are closed, and right now I have no idea when, how or if I can go there.

My cells are still in the lab and a few days ago I unpacked my suitcases.

Luckily, I have plenty of work to do: data to analyze, papers to write, graphs to make... work that I would normally not be able to sit down for more than 2-3 hours a day.

Also luckily, I can focus very well at home, with lo-fi beats in my ears and a large cup of coffee in my hand.

Sometimes it feels like a luxury to be able to sit and think so much about how to perfectly formulate each paragraph of a paper introduction, without time pressure or distractions.

Outside of ‘’work hours’’ I am not bored either: movies to watch, books to read, board games to play. And running, which I can now do at the frequency I’ve always wanted to do (as long as parks are still open…)

But then, there is loneliness.

And I just realized it’s not the loneliness of missing meeting your friends due to the lockdown - it’s the loneliness of not missing meeting your friends all that much.

Because you only meet them a few times a year anyway.

Because you’ve moved to a new country every few years for a new academic job and your friends are scattered around the world.

Because you’re maybe in a new place where you haven’t made friends yet.

So being lonely most of the time except those few holidays and weekend visits a year where you see your scattered friends is pretty standard. And that’s, well, a lonelier kind of loneliness.

Read more about Maria's research here.

Truc Pham - 700x700Truc Pham, PhD student at King's College London focussing on the development of multimodality imaging reagents for biomedical imaging.

(25/3/20) As our lab is based within the hospital, the School has taken rapid measures to protect the staff and students as well as the patients. These include working from home when possible and subsequently limiting wet lab work.

Though most of us now can't go to the lab, we are trying our best to continue our research by doing literature reviews and video call conferences (as long as there is good internet access!). It has been a week since [the restrictions were introduced] and clearly, this virus has massively disrupted our daily routines making working from home "a new normal".

I do miss the lab and seeing everyone there, yet we are still in touch via email, social media and  WhatsApp. I am lucky to live with my family so, I don't feel too isolated.

Personally, listening to news and podcasts keeps me entertained and updated.

Plus I would advise to carry on with your hobbies if you can (for me that would be pole fitness), those definitely would keep us sane!

If you haven't had one, it is now the time to find one, bring out your creativity or artistic spirit that have been buried by the busy schedule before.

Don't forget to connect with your loved ones. Stay safe, keep calm, keep washing hands and carry on! 

Read more about Truc's research here.

arlieArlie McCarthy, PhD student (3rd year) researching the risks of introducing non-native marine species to Antarctica, based in the Zoology Department at the University of Cambridge, UK, and the British Antarctic Survey.

(26/3/20) At the moment I feel as though I’m still reeling from being dumped by a huge wave in the surf, but I’m getting back on my feet (or surfboard).

My research work was turned upside down last week. I was on holidays abroad when the Covid-19 situation in the UK and Europe worsened and I was due to go the Falkland Islands for fieldwork only two weeks after returning to the UK.

Within a few days of returning from holidays, however, I went from thinking I’d be doing my fieldwork as planned to cancelling everything and shifting my office home: I have been locked out of my offices and labs for the foreseeable future.

Thankfully, the immediate work I need to get on with is a data-heavy, desk-based chapter of my thesis so unlike some of my colleagues I haven’t needed to cut experiments short or move lab equipment and animals home. 

My current work will keep me busy for a few weeks and, in some ways, I feel I have a grace period before I need to re-think my research plan. The rest of my chapters rely on field and lab work which I currently can’t do but I hope that by the time I have run out of desk-based work we have a better idea of long we can expect the lockdown restrictions will be in place.  

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I had developed a good routine of work and home life that helped me stay productive, happy and healthy.

Thankfully, the productivity techniques I used in the office also work at home. My routine now is different because most of my hobbies have been cancelled and I no longer commute but I’ve tried to keep the same daily and weekly structure and replace the activities I was doing before with new ones (or old ones I had put aside!).

I live in a flat so I don’t have a space that can be set up permanently as a home office. Instead, every morning my partner and I set up our monitors and laptops on the kitchen table and pack them down again at the end of the work day. That keeps a clear distinction between when we should be working and when we’re having down time: temporal instead of spatial separation between work and home life.

So far, I haven’t felt particularly isolated because I live with my partner and a flatmate and, now that I have mostly adjusted to working from home, daily work life hasn’t felt drastically different. My fellow research students have set up regular online tea breaks to replace the ones we usually have in person and my lab is continuing our weekly lab meetings online, too.

They’ve already been a valuable way of feeling connected to friends and colleagues at work and I think I will feel less isolated if I am regularly joining those meetings. My houseplants aren’t very good at chatting about science!

All things considered, I’m in a better position than many to keep working, which I am grateful for, and I also have a great support network, despite being a very long way from my family in Australia. Now I’m focussing on doing my bit by staying at home, keeping busy and looking after myself and my research as best I can.

My new matra, for all the Star Trek fans out there, is “be more borg: think collectively, and adapt.”

We are in this together.

Read more about Arlie’s research here.

Read part one here.

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.