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Pandemic diary – Impact of Covid-19 on my research
For this blog entry, I thought I would change the narration style a bit and try to recapitulate the year and the impact it had on my work and my life. These are unprecedented times so maybe someone might find this interesting to read in a couple of years. In these fast-changing times individual experiences fade all so quickly and even now I already find it hard to remember what happened in March.
Pre lockdown times
25th February 2020 – Sitting in the front row of the Opera house in Leeds. Packed house and almost every seat is taken. I would have cherished my then last crowded event for this year much more if I had known what was coming for me three weeks later. Covid-19 was still something that happened elsewhere in the world but not in the UK.
10th of March 2020 – Joining colleagues for a meeting preparing for the BeCurious public outreach event which at that point no one knew if it was happening or not. Other countries already went into lockdown and I was enticipating the announcement for the UK from day to day.
16th of March 2020 – Decided to stay at home as I wasn’t feeling well, but didn’t have the classic symptoms of Covid-19 which weren’t fully known at that point. Informed my boss and told my undergrad students which I were supervising at the time to self-isolate, just in case it is something more serious. Little did I know that this was the last time I would be in the lab for a long time.
Start of lockdown
23rd of March 2020 – Official lockdown start in the UK. First estimations on how long this lockdown would last were ranging from end of April, but I was personally more sceptic and aiming for end of June. Home grocery deliveries were booked out for weeks, but luckily HelloFresh would save me from running out of food for the next four weeks.
28th of March 2020 – Repeatedly tried to go grocery shopping in town where I used to go before lockdown but the queues were massive and I did not feel comfortable with people not really sticking to the distance needed. It feels like the rule obedient German in me would prefer more intervention from store staff but the UK is known for its more hands-off approach. Found a local Co-op store that does deliveries and did not seem to be booked out so this will suffice for the near future.
2nd of April 2020 – Started supervising a master’s student for the next six months. Everything had to be done from home but since bioinformatics is not my strong suit I was hoping we would be able to get back to the lab before that.
Adjusting to a longer work from home situation
9th of April 2020 – Our boss decided to do weekly check-ups on everyone to see how we were doing and discuss any potential progress. In my undergrad and postgrad studies I always went to the library as I got distracted in my own home. My motivation plummeted after each meeting and got stronger again before the next meeting. I am very much a practical person that needs to jump around and do things in the lab so my mental health suffered a lot from thinking I did not get anything done at home. At days this would even get so bad that I stopped having my spare time in the evening as I felt I didn’t do much during the day.
11th of May 2020 – Our annual ViBrANT meeting was due but unfortunately, we had to meet up online. Everyone was still getting used to the online presentation style and it felt weird to me not seeing who I was talking to while giving my talk. At least I got to see my fellow ESRs again.
21st of May 2020 – Statements from the EU about potential funding extensions remained scarce. Luckily I was able to be put on furlough so at least I wouldn’t lose any time during being stuck at home. Unfortunately, the UK did not adopt the Kurzarbeit system we have in Germany which allows you to work part time and the rest of your salary is topped up by the government. Under the UK furlough scheme, I was now not allowed to do any form of work except for training purposes.
13th of June 2020 – New possible dates for return to the lab are circulated. I was sarcastically saying beginning of September which in the end was closer to the truth than I would have liked to admit. A sort of routine has taken hold of my life and I have my little things that get me through staying at home.
22nd of June 2020 – It is my birthday and this was the first year in my life that I haven’t spent it with my family and friends in Germany. It would have been possible to go back but I wouldn’t want to risk anything, especially since the travel involves a lot of narrow, closed spaces.
Over the next couple of weeks, I tried to make the best out of staying at home but my mental health was declining every week. At times it felt like one day was blurring into the next day and you couldn’t even tell anymore if it was the weekend or not. Every week I was hoping for an announcement from the University when we can finally get back into the lab.
Slowly returning back to the lab
17th of August 2020 – Finally some of us were able to get back into the lab with a lot of restrictions that will take some time to getting used to: My old lab bench was too close to a corridor so we had to come up with bookable work spaces which meant moving around a lot. The occupancy has been decreased to almost half of our lab size, essential facilities like autoclaving/glass washing/stores have been reduced to the bare minimum, and work hours have been restricted. It felt very strange coming back to an empty campus and the feeling of being constantly watched, almost like it is in between the years.
14th of September 2020 – In an effort to get more people back into the lab while maintaining occupancy rules we decided to switch to shift work. This either meant coming to the lab very early or staying very late while only having seven hours of work each day. This might seem normal as it reflects a 9-5 work day but it happens so often that an experiment goes wrong and you suddenly find yourself working much longer than anticipated. Planning for each day is now much more thorough and everything just takes more time to do. This will be probably like that for a while so I think I need to get used to it quite quickly as my evenings are very short now.
26th of September 2020 – This is the day I am writing this blog entry. New restrictions for Leeds were just announced last night and the numbers are even getting higher than in April/May. I am concerned that these restrictions will last for a long while. This time at least work does not seem to be affected but the lack of being able to meet people will definitely affect my mental health. I hope that I will be able to go back to Germany for Christmas without major downtimes from two-way quarantines.