Cells have been frozen, flights have been canceled, data quickly stored on shared drives, and lab meetings have become virtual. With the lockdown set to continue for another two weeks, here’s how CBMR’s Barrès Group has been coping with our new reality.
The lockdown is forcing us, and many others, to be creative how we communicate and support each other as scientists. Social media and virtual platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Skype – so often seen as secondary to ‘being there in person’ – are proving their value and providing crucial human contact and inspiration in this unprecedented situation.
We still hold a lab meeting once a week, only we now use Microsoft Teams, which allows us to meet virtually with video, chat, share screens and present Powerpoint presentations. Other than a few teething problems, we are so far finding the platform to be quite effective, particularly the instant chat and creation of ‘channels’ for distinct projects.
My role as Research Coordinator has actually not changed a huge amount despite working from home, as I spend a lot of my time communicating with our collaborators is Sydney and Chicago via email and Skype. Keeping in touch with them has also given me an insight into their experiences of how the US and Australia are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one of the resources that I have found particularly useful in this transition is the infographic below by Dr. Zoe Ayres, which shows different ways in which we can use this time at home and help maintain focus.
For me, connecting with colleagues and letting go of guilt are two of the most important tips I try to remember. Chatting on Teams and making sure I take time to have a coffee, do a home workout, or listen to a podcast has helped me stay sane and happy over the past few weeks. There has been a huge focus on maintaining productivity – but you can’t be productive if you don’t have a positive outlook.
Many of the PhD students in our group have adopted some of these strategies, most notably the importance of sticking to a schedule. It has been no great surprise to hear that they have struggled to maintain focus while working at home – I can definitely relate to that! This is especially true for those members of the lab who have children and other family members to care for.
PhD student Eleonora Manita shares her experiences:
“Sitting in front of the computer all day is not easy. Going into the lab kind of gives you a routine and also a break, since it’s more manual. Doing experiments takes time and attention but some parts of it are also very automatic. So I would say that the biggest challenge has been being focused. Also, because of the situation we are facing, it is easy to get distracted by the news, which makes the whole experience a bit different than just a week where you work from home. I’ve been trying to keep a normal schedule as if I were at work, working and taking breaks when I usually do, but there is space for improvement!”
But for some, at least, the lockdown has created an unexpected silver lining – PhD student Emil Andersen is finally getting a chance to write his thesis!