Early-Career Researchers in the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. The response to this crisis has brought sweeping changes felt by people across the world, including early-career researchers (ECRs).

With classes moving online and ECRs working from home  many in foreign countries and/or far away from their families or support systems  there is increased risk of emotional isolation and struggles with mental health. This is all the more pertinent given that mental health issues like depression and anxiety are already prevalent among ECRs navigating the academic world, where the pressure to succeed is ever-present and rejection is the norm. In many cases, academics are expected to maintain or even increase their productivity during the pandemic, with the suggestion that they now have more time to write. This ignores the emotional stress many may be enduring. Field and laboratory work have come to a halt, causing delays in research projects, and the pandemic has prompted many research and higher education institutions to freeze hiring. This renders ECRs even more vulnerable as they are often precariously employed through short term contracts and limited funding. The impacts felt vary among regions and individuals, but their presence is universal. 

With this in mind, we reached out to our colleagues in palaeo- and Earth sciences and asked them how they are living this moment. Here, twelve ECRs from different parts of the world share their pandemic stories. The accounts below portray worries and fear, but also adaptability and resilience. Be prepared for cute children “working” alongside their parents and a whole lot of exercising, cooking, and bread baking. While some of our authors find the move to online teaching difficult, a silver lining in teleworking is a smaller carbon footprint and more time for talking with one’s friends and family. However, online resources are not equally accessible to everybody. In regions where electrical power is scarce the situation is exacerbated and isolation is felt differently. Despite all the difficulties and concerns, you will read how our authors are grateful for the things they have. 


Udita Mukherjee (USA): "For years now, to maintain a healthy work-life balance, I have tried not to bring work home, thus this new “work from home” situation means a nosedive for my productivity."

Cecilia Cordero-Ovideo (Mexico): "As I am near completion of my PhD program, I worry (more than before) about the future, as I now have to face questions outside my comfort zone."

Camilla Marie Jensen (Switzerland)I generally feel very grateful for being able to work from home and having my usual salary, but I am definitely on an emotional roller coaster as the weeks go by.”

Nerina Pisani (Argentina): "Since day one, I have found it really difficult to manage my schedules, making it difficult for me to arrive early to work, even working from my own home!"

Moustapha Moussa (Cameroon)“Closure of the lab was devastating for me because I had planned my daily workload until June.”

Georgy Falster (Australia)“I delivered my lecture on the last deglaciation via Zoom from my bedroom at 1:30 am, to students on the other side of the world, whilst being aggressively snored at by my cat.”

Rodrigo Martínez-Abarca (Mexico)“It isn’t all bad. I started new activities that I had never tried before.”

Lydia Mackenzie (China)“Eventually, this ‘break’ away from trying to meet my pre-quarantine deadlines made it possible for me to begin focusing again.”

Chukwuma Anoruo (Nigeria)“[H]ow can people mostly without stable and regulated electric power work from home?”

Sentia Goursaud (France): “On a personal level, life has changed for the better!

Nguyen Tan Thai Hung (Singapore): “For my wife and me, that means working at home full-time with our two kids, aged one and four.”

María Macarena Zarza (Argentina): COVID-19 is a threat that attacks much more than our immune system -- it attacks our calm, filling the soul with fear, anguish and insecurities."

"For years now, to maintain a healthy work-life balance, I have tried not to bring work home, thus this new “work from home” situation means a nosedive for my productivity."

Udita Mukherjee
PhD Candidate
Tulane University, New Orleans, USA

20 April 2020

As Alexa tries to wake me up with my regular workday alarm at 6.30 am, I open my eyes to a new day, my mind blank. But it is not a regular day anymore, and my mind is never truly blank these days. I have been working from home for a month now -- only going out for essentials and even then only a couple of times every week. We are living through a pandemic right now and almost the whole world is at a stand-still, with the entire population holding its breath as SARS-CoV-2 wreaks havoc. New Orleans, where I am pursuing my PhD, is one of the cities worst-hit by COVID-19 in the USA and one of the highest infection rates in the world. The city, which is known for its live music, bars, and communities, closed down within a couple of days after the detection of the first case. A blanket stay-at-home order was issued, and all community spaces were closed. 

I wake up to news updates on my phone from two countries, the one where I live, US, and the one where I am from, India. This is where my family lives. Without any doubt, everything about the news fills me with despair. However, video calls are saving the day. From a friend who lives 10 mins away to my family living in a different continent, from a social Zoom happy hour to my prospectus committee meeting to get my PhD candidacy, everything has been online for a long time now. As I write this, the entire situation sounds like the opening scenes of a bad dystopian movie. But no, this is our reality.

For years now, to maintain a healthy work-life balance, I have tried not to bring work home, thus this new “work from home” situation means a nosedive for my productivity. No amount of setting a nice workspace or dressing up as if I am going to work has been able to hoist me back to my normal productivity levels, and I have accepted that surviving a pandemic comes first. However, this has also given me a chance to count my blessings. I have a safe home to shelter-in-place and food to eat. I am also getting paid through this hellscape. These are rights that every human being should have under a just system, but I am fortunate enough to have all these. On top of that, my research can be done from home and I am lucky to have an advisor who understands and is empathetic about the current crippling existential dread. I have the time and resources to be bored, and to pick up gardening, and start a long-planned YouTube channel, and read books and watch movies to keep me sane.  Even though I recognize my privileges, these are essential for my mental well-being, which in many ways have a say on my physical well-being.

As I go into the second month of shelter-in-place, I am hoping and dreaming of the day I can leave on a jet-plane and hug my family again. I am dreaming of a beach vacation with my closest friends. I am suddenly realizing how wonderful my basement office at Tulane University with a little window is, how grateful I am for all the conferences and field trips that I will actually be able to attend in the future. Being in a field of study like geology, which is at times quite ableist, I hope we take the right lessons from this situation that we have been thrust into, and once this is over, we use the skills of virtual communications and resources that we are learning now and transfer them to making our discipline a bit more egalitarian, an example being great virtual field trips or conferences.

"As I am near completion of my PhD program, I worry (more than before) about the future, as I now have to face questions outside my comfort zone”

Cecilia Cordero-Oviedo
PhD Candidate
The National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico

10 April 2020

I am a geologist from Costa Rica, but since 2015 I have been living in Mexico City, first to pursue my MSc and now my PhD in Earth Science studying pollen. My mind is in Mexico but my heart is in Costa Rica where my family is living through this unexpected situation. I try to only listen to the official news about Mexico and Costa Rica and not panic, though this is almost an impossible task. 

I was, like many of us, completely unprepared for the global pandemic. Currently, I am writing my dissertation and papers to graduate from my PhD program. My pre-pandemic routine was working at the institute from 10 am up to 5 pm, returning home, walking my dog for distraction, then resuming work until my partner gets home and we finally could watch some Netflix and sleep. Having this routine was good for me because I love having checklists to bring order into my life. Now my routine is working out in the morning, walking my dog (3 times a day), working on my thesis, reading some books not related to my work, eating at the same hours as before and watching Netflix at night. Meditation and taking a moment to breathe have been positive additions to my everyday life which I want to continue after the pandemic. I do not think that our lives will return to the exact way they were before COVID-19, but we will achieve a new normal. 

As I am near completion of my PhD program, I worry (more than before) about the future, as I now have to face questions outside my “comfort zone”, like my place in society and the legacy I will leave for future generations. For example, I always wanted to teach but since I am not in my country, bureaucracy intervenes every time I try. So now, I have more time to think about other issues. What can I do to improve the world as a palynologist interested in paleo topics? I also think about my near future, because although new beginnings are scary, they are also exciting and refreshing. 

I look forward to seeing my family and friends when this chaotic situation slows down and making sure everyone is okay. We are fortunate to have the technology to see or hear from our relatives and friends, however, it is not the same. It always feels distant.

A lesson I have learnt from the pandemic is that life is definitely short and death is an inevitable part of it, so it is time to seek the opportunities to advance in projects or start new ones with a clear perspective. I also learn that my role as an ECR is mainly to stay safe, evolve, and contribute to the future of science, and finally become aware of the things and people that really matter because they will lead you to achieve your goals. 

“I generally feel very grateful for being able to work from home and having my usual salary, but I am definitely on an emotional roller coaster as the weeks go by.”

Camilla Marie Jensen
PhD student 
Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research
University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Research Profile

17 April 2020

The Swiss government announced the lockdown on March 16th, closing pretty much everything but grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and post offices. I watched the press conference during my evening shift in the laboratory, but that morning I had already moved my desktop computer and set up my home office. I had spent the last two and a half months working in the laboratory with colleagues from all over the world, some of whom were called back to their home institutes as the virus spread. When my home country Denmark announced a complete lockdown and closure of the borders some days earlier, I knew that Switzerland would probably follow the same strategy shortly -- there were already a greater number of cases here. I was quite relieved with the Swiss government’s decision as it seemed to be the best strategy to flatten the COVID-19 curve. The Italian speaking part of the country was already quite affected.

I have always prefered working from home, both during my early studies, and throughout my PhD. So, I was not really phased with being forced to work from home for an undefined period, as I know that I am just as productive as when I am working at the university. My habits have not changed much, as I enjoy doing yoga or going for a run in the morning so that I can focus on work with few interruptions throughout the rest of the day. I find the online group meeting a little awkward compared to the in-person ones, but I appreciate that it is still easy to stay in contact with my supervisor and colleagues that way. It is gradually getting tougher not to socialise as the weeks go by, but I am staying sane as I live with my partner, who is in a similar situation. He has his home office set up next to mine and it seems to work just fine for the two of us to share the office. It brings a smile to our colleagues’ faces when my cat decides to join the online meetings.

I generally feel very grateful for being able to work from home and having my usual salary, but I am definitely on an emotional roller coaster as the weeks go by. As it is the last year of my PhD, I had several international conferences and summer schools to look forward to this year and it has been quite a mood killer to see all these events being cancelled or postponed. This is especially disheartening as I would like to make a career in science communication. I get hit by the fear of missing out on giving talks and networking, which is very important for me at this stage. I even shed a frustrated tear when the biggest conference in my field, that only takes place every fourth year, was postponed. I try to use this frustration, which is just a sign of my enthusiasm, to find new ways to network and learn new skills. Therefore I spend time looking through new options online, getting sparks of joy whenever I find even the smallest online sessions on something interesting. I think this period can teach me to think outside of the box and come up with some ideas that I would not necessarily have gotten in a business-as-usual world. At least I have knitted an entire Nordic sweater and become an expert in sourdough.

"Since day one, I have found it really difficult to manage my schedules, making it difficult for me to arrive early to work, even working from my own home!"

Nerina Pisani
PhD Student
Earth Science Research Center, Córdoba, Argentina
Research Profile

20 April 2020

At the beginning, I was a little skeptical regarding the entire COVID-19 situation. It seemed to me that the media was exaggerating, worrying about this ‘first world’ disease, that affects mainly wealthy people with the possibility of travelling abroad. Meanwhile, there is not enough coverage by the media for some high-risk situations happening in Argentina (femicides, homeless people, dengue, among others), whose victims are among the most vulnerable members of society. That is the reason I refused to do a voluntary quarantine before it was mandatory and kept a normal work rhythm during the first two weeks of March. Changing my daily routine without being able to attend my workplace, would mean delaying the precious data collection for my thesis. That was not an option for me since I am in the 4th year of my doctorate and still have a lot of information to gather.

As the days passed, rumors of a mandatory national quarantine grew. I decided it would be prudent to take some important things from the office to my home, just in case. This included a microscope and some samples to continue with data collection. It was just in time! The rumors were later confirmed that night through a press conference when the president informed us of mandatory quarantine for 15 days.

Once the national quarantine was official and I surrendered to working from home, I decided to prepare a room in my house to use as an office. I chose a place with few distractions and then installed the microscope on a desk, organized the samples, set my computer, notebooks, books, and a plant, and voila! The office was ready. As the pandemic became widespread, the initial 15 days of quarantine became 40, and the president has warned us that we still have a long way to go. 

This lengthened quarantine has meant finding a new routine. I am discovering new things and struggling with others. So far, I have learned that many work meetings can be summarized in a simple email exchange and that others are easier to achieve with streaming platforms since they became shorter and more effective (although I don’t have any excuses to escape from these meetings ;-) ). More time at home has allowed me to be more dedicated to cooking. I have found myself with more time to prepare both healthy and tasty meals, instead of depending all the time on fast food deliveries. Cooking turned out to be a relaxing activity to do when you have enough time. It really helped me clear my thoughts, with delicious results. Last, I found out that virtual exercise and hang-outs with friends are key to preserving my mental health.

Fortunately, taking the microscope home allowed me to keep an acceptable work pace and I have been able to maintain focus. However, not all the experiences are positive. Since day one, I have found it really difficult to manage my schedules, making it difficult for me to arrive early to work, even working from my own home! Similarly, I find it difficult to stop working at the end of the day. It really worries me that, if the virus continues to spread, it will seriously delay my thesis progress. Not being able to access the laboratories during this period will generate a strong demand for them once the quarantine ends, affecting the work of most of my colleagues.

Despite all these issues, I try to stay mindful of how privileged I am in this situation relative to other people. In Argentina, the vast majority of doctoral students receive state-funded scholarships, which have not been suspended during this period. Having a stable income, an apartment to live in, and being able to work from home is a privilege when many do not have access to these basic needs. That is why I now put skepticism aside and celebrate the president’s decision. I understand that staying at home is not so bad and that I must do my job to respect the quarantine for all those who cannot.

“Closure of the lab was devastating for me because I had planned my daily workload until June.”

Moustapha Moussa
PhD Student
Faculty of Sciences, University of Ngaoundéré, Ngaoundéré, Cameroon
ResearchGate || Twitter

27 April 2020

As of March, the COVID-19 pandemic became much more serious than we had anticipated. On March 13, the first confirmed case was announced in Cameroon. It was a foreigner who had arrived in the country a week before. The government decided on a lockdown. After the quarantine decision of the government, the university closed its doors to disinfect all the facilities. I was analysing some of my field samples of particulate organic carbon to complete my thesis. Closure of the lab was devastating for me because I had planned my daily workload until June. I was sure that they would soon announce that the university would not be open until further notice. Well, that's just the way it is. I decided to indulge myself and did what I couldn't do before: take an online training course on GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and get some exercise at home. The time of quarantine would not be a total waste after all. I am sad that the government has decided to extend the quarantine until at least June 1, meaning that the university will remain closed. High-speed internet connection is very expensive  I use a lower quality connection which doesn't make online training any easier. Sadly, the pandemic continues to worsen and the number of positive cases and deaths increases every day. The quarantine rules and preventive measures against the coronavirus such as regular handwashing with soap and water, maintaining at least 2 meters distance to people coughing or sneezing, avoiding touching one’s face, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, etc., are not respected by everybody. The markets are still open, as well as churches and mosques. Similarly, the university campus has not yet been disinfected!

The quarantine has slowed down my thesis work considerably because it is very difficult to work at home with children who need constant attention. I am very hopeful that the pandemic will end soon and that I can resume work in the laboratory at the university.

“I delivered my lecture on the last deglaciation via Zoom from my bedroom at 1:30 am, to students on the other side of the world, whilst being aggressively snored at by my cat.”

Georgy Falster, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Associate 
Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA (currently in Adelaide, Australia)
Research Profile || Twitter

17 April 2020 

Like many universities in the USA, the COVID-19 response from Washington University in St. Louis was swift: research staff were asked to work from home from 17th March, then ordered to do so from the 23rd. The Australian government was also (unusually) quick off the mark, with flights in and out of Australia grounded from Saturday 28th March. As an Australian expat, six months into my first postdoc and still settling into the American Way, this posed a sticky question: I’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future, so should ‘home’ be St. Louis, USA, or my home town of Adelaide, Australia? Wherever I decided to stay I was going to be stuck there until international affairs settled down. After some emotional suasion from my family I hopped on one of the last flights Down Under, effectively marooning myself until the pandemic blows over. 

Before you read on, I must confess that I have the good fortune to be doing entirely computer-based research. Not only that, but I am part of a PAGES Working Group that has been collaborating virtually since its inception in 2015; it’s almost like I’ve been training for this. And  perhaps having learned from their complete failure to deal with the recent bushfires  the Australian government’s response to this crisis has been surprisingly successful. Our COVID-19 curve is flattening, and the government’s somewhat draconian measures have been received with remarkable equanimity. To top off my comparatively comfortable situation, my supervisor is one of the most academically creative, supportive, and all-round lovely humans I have been lucky enough to work for, and she is making the transition to online operations very smooth.

Nevertheless, working my USA-based postdoc from South Australia has its downsides. Perhaps irrationally, the geographical distance from my collaborators makes me feel like I am losing touch with what I already feel is a rather tenuous hold on a potential research career (some may call this imposter syndrome, I call it a realistic view of how lucky I was to fall into such a wonderful job). This is not helped by the fact that the quality of Australia’s broadband is an international joke, making online meetings a bit of a gamble.
Several courses that I’d planned to attend have been cancelled, and online seminars and courses that are held during the day in America generally fall between ~1 am and 4 am in Adelaide. I recently gave my first guest lecture in conditions very unlike my tweed-coloured dreams of Undergrad Enlightenment: I delivered my lecture on the last deglaciation via Zoom from my bedroom at 1:30 am, to students on the other side of the world, whilst being aggressively snored at by my cat. At least it was not the students snoring.

This brings me to the most tangible annoyance which is, of course, the 13ish-hour time difference between the USA and me. 9 am Central Time is 11:30 pm in Adelaide, and by the time my 9 am rolls around it’s dinner time in St. Louis. I get up early to catch the American afternoons, but full brain engagement at 5:30 am is a bit of a stretch, and I’m hardly going to ask my collaborators and lab mates to talk shop at 10 pm. My university department’s virtual happy hour falls on Saturday morning, and although isolation has me increasingly fond of a daytime bevvy (quarantinis, anyone?), 7:30 am is pushing it.

So, am I remaining sane in Annus Covidis? Well, I’ve already given myself a tattoo, watched several seasons of Buffy, and had a lot of conversations with my cat. But I have also made a surprising amount of progress on a couple of research fronts, swum daily in the Southern Ocean, resurrected my research website, and video-called one of my best friends with whom I hadn’t talked in months. So despite the 5 am meetings, a few changes in my research plans for the year, and a double helping of my usual fear of academic failure, I’d say that iso-life has been pretty bloody kind to me.

“It isn’t all bad. I started new activities that I had never tried before”

Rodrigo Martínez-Abarca
Research Assistant
National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico

17 April 2020

In Mexico, COVID-19 quarantine started at the end of March. The government recommended staying at home, however, it took society a couple of weeks to implement this recommendation. Even today, despite being under a strict lockdown, a lot of people are still carrying out non-essential work away from home, because their livelihood, unfortunately, depends on it.          

The quarantine has modified scientific activities in Mexico. Most students and researchers have been sent to work at home. Under this condition, we must create new ways in order to continue our research and teaching activities. Regarding research, we were not able to take any lab equipment home, so all we can do now is writing or analysing previously obtained data. Teaching is also challenging. A lot of universities provided training on software that makes remote communication possible between students and professors. Personally, I had to create new material for my students that I can share via the internet, such as YouTube videos of me giving classes. It’s hard for both teachers and students because we are not able to carry out lab practicals, an indispensable scientific activity. Hence, our classes are limited to the theory only.  

It isn’t all bad. I started new activities that I had never tried before, like learning German and exercising at home. Now, I am able to communicate more with my family than when we spent all day at work or school. Moreover, the scientific community is trying out technological tools such as video conference software, which might be used in the future. Personally, my scientific productivity has increased because being at home, a beautiful place to me, accompanied by music and my little dogs, creates a relaxing atmosphere that motivates me. 

However, not all Mexican people are able to stay at home due to economic problems. I think the most important part of this pandemic is that we are learning to protect ourselves as a society. I am noticing what is essential in life, like being happy or being with people who are important to me. So, after the quarantine, I will hug them tightly.

“Eventually, this ‘break’ away from trying to meet my pre-quarantine deadlines made it possible for me to begin focusing again (...)”

Lydia Mackenzie
Associate Professor,
Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China
Research Profile

20 April 2020

I always look forward to Chinese New Year. Major cities like Hangzhou, where I have lived for the last year, become quiet and peaceful as people travel across China to reconnect with family. This year I booked a trip home to visit my family in Australia and planned to hike the Overland Track in Tasmania. So, as my colleagues and friends headed home for the holiday, I was ready to do the same.  

A few days before the national holiday, I received notice that our office and laboratory would close amid the news that a new coronavirus had been detected roughly 600 km west of Hangzhou. I was focused on trying to finish a grant proposal and manuscript before my holiday so I carried my work office home. This turned out to be a very good decision as Australia quickly imposed strict quarantine rules on people arriving from mainland China and flight after flight was cancelled. (Besides, two weeks quarantined at my parent’s house in Australia would have made it a bit difficult to hike the Overland Track!) 

I spent the next 7 weeks working from home in my small Hangzhou apartment. My province quickly took steps to protect people by closing businesses and advising everyone to stay indoors. The high point of my day became the short walk to my local Starbucks which remained open as all the other shops closed. Luckily, you can order almost ANYTHING online in China, and my partner and I spent days cooking up more and more elaborate meals. Many expats chose to extend their Chinese New Year holidays as businesses and schools delayed opening, so we added a friend’s puppy to our small apartment which already contained one very antisocial cat. 

As the weeks wore on, taking care of my mental well-being became the top priority. I was unable to focus on finishing my grant proposal or manuscript, especially with a puppy and cat tearing the apartment apart. The guilt and anxiety I felt were affecting my well-being. To counteract this, I booked an online personal trainer to keep me active indoors, and focused on things I enjoy but usually do not have time for. This included learning Chinese characters and perfecting my sourdough bread! Eventually, this ‘break’ away from trying to meet my pre-quarantine deadlines made it possible for me to begin focusing again, so that by the time the office reopened I had achieved some of my personal and work goals. 

The small shops in my neighborhood are now open again  although some have closed for good  and I can meet with friends and go hiking in the mountains around Hangzhou. I feel very lucky to be back at work while my friends and family around the world experience their own lockdown. Postgraduate students at our university are slowly allowed to return to campus, and at lunch the once lively canteen is now neatly separated by plastic dividers to maintain social distancing. Sports facilities such as the badminton courts on campus remain closed, so my colleagues and I have moved our weekly games to the car park outside our building. Suddenly, this year’s academic calendar is very empty as I wait to see if conferences and field campaigns are an option. At the moment we are advised not to travel outside of our province and my mid-year field trip to sample lakes in northern China and Mongolia is being rescheduled for August in the hope this will change. Despite feeling a little isolated during the global pandemic, I am enjoying regularly connecting with colleagues from around the world through the PAGES ECN Write Club and seeing international conferences such as EGU move online. But most of all I’m enjoying leaving the cat and dog at home each day when I go to work! 

“[H]ow can people mostly without stable and regulated electric power work from home?”

Chukwuma Anoruo
Doctoral Student
University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria

11 April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has made an impact on the lifestyle of Early-Career Researchers (ECRs). The situation of ECRs in Nigeria was already difficult before the pandemic, due to lack of opportunities and funding, while the government has been attacking the entire ECR community for not being productive enough. Now, the impact of the pandemic is really being felt in my University. The Nigerian government is enforcing a stay-at-home order  intended to keep people safe  through military roadblocks, thereby restricting citizens. These restrictions have closed the universities and research centres and so I am working from home. The closing of research facilities will likely add to the stigmatization of ECRs. Being housebound during this pandemic interferes with my ability to focus on my thesis. I have lost touch with my supervisors and am now experiencing inertia.

There are numerous issues that developing countries like Nigeria have in common and that could worsen the impact of the pandemic. How can people without access to clean water be expected to wash their hands? How can people in an overcrowded environment practice social distancing? Further, how can people mostly without stable and regulated electric power work from home?

These major challenges  mainly the lack of access to electric power  confront me today. I only have 24% access to the total power available in the electrical grid ever since the university was closed and I started working from home. A few weeks ago, I was supposed to skype with the University of Trento but I had to postpone it because my laptop battery was at 19% and quickly discharging. Also, I am involved in an ECR group review of the IPCC report as the chair of one of the chapters and the interaction with my reviewers is always delayed on my side due to the lack of electric power.

During this lockdown, I am maintaining good physical and mental health. As the entire continent is housebound due to the coronavirus outbreak, it has become necessary for me to start exercising using my home environment, which is new for me. Additionally, I have started a new routine to stay active by listening to and sometimes playing musical instruments. I am really afraid that if this situation continues, it will leave a lasting negative impact on the life of most ECRs here in Nigeria and I am fearful of its effect on my career long-term.

"On a personal level, life has changed for the better!"

Sentia Goursaud, PhD
Post-Doctoral Research Associate
Department of Earth Sciences
University of Cambridge, UK

11 April 2020

In France, lockdown was declared on the night of the 16th of March, meaning that everyone had to decide where to live. Since that date we must write a certification when going out, testifying when we will leave our house and why. As the weeks pass, the constraints strengthen. Today, jogging or strolling is only allowed for one hour within a 1 km radius of one’s residency.

When everything started, I was in France for a seminar, and my fiance and I decided to isolate in my family home together. Since we are usually separated, he works in France and I in the UK, we were happy to be together. We had to adopt a new working routine together, though it did not change much for me, living 10 minutes from my workplace, my alarm clock remained the same. Also, I was very independent and had no lab work, so I kept the same freedom. However, I have been affected by not having contact with my colleagues anymore.

In the beginning, it was very hard for me. I got demotivated. But at some point, I became more serene. I managed to reset some organization in my work. This rigour forced me to focus, got me back into the scientific game. You know what it is: you get the ideas, you want to know more, you have the patience to pursue your work. I finally started my engine! So, after stabilizing the situation in my head, my work went back to normal, with little change.

On a personal level, life has changed for the better! I now have the pleasure to wake beside my fiance. We take time to enjoy breakfasts, lunches, dinners… and I cook and bake more than ever, it is very challenging… for him! We have finally achieved to live a very pleasant isolation, and I admit, we wish it will last longer. But when everything goes back to normal, we will do our best to have a similar life, and thus strongly negotiate for teleworking. 

“For my wife and me, that means working at home full-time with our two kids, aged one and four.”

Nguyen Tan Thai Hung
PhD student
Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore

20 April 2020 

In an earlier post, I shared my experience doing a PhD with two small children: it is like doing three PhDs. Today I will share how I am trying to adapt three PhDs to a COVID-19 quarantine.

Singapore managed the first phase of the outbreak well. But as it transitioned into a serious community spread, on 7 April, the country went into a near-lockdown  a “circuit breaker” to stop the spread, as the government calls it. For my wife and me, that means working at home full-time with our two kids, aged one and four. And that, for me, means doubling the time working at home (as I used to work from home half of the time before), doubling the number of kids (my son’s preschool is closed too), and — probably  ten times the difficulty.

I have been telling my son, Max, about my work and he has been telling me he is also “doing a PhD.” He asked me for a computer so that he could work like me, so I made one for him out of cardboard. Now that he is also “working from home”, I set up a new desk for him  next to his “computer desk”  so that he can do his school activities, like colouring and writing. Max can switch between “doing his PhD” and “working from home.” This usually keeps him occupied for about 30 minutes each stretch. Then he plays with his toys on the floor. He is quite good at independent play, he just needs me to be nearby.

Meanwhile, my daughter, Dawn, plays around in her own world, being half-watched by my mother-in-law, who is doing her chores. Every so often, Dawn climbs onto my lap, and I have a piece of paper and a pencil for her to scribble with. Sometimes she comes with a book asking me to read for her. She then climbs down and plays with Max’s toys, which triggers a fight, and I resolve the conflict. After a while, Max is happy to share some toys, Dawn brings them away, and I move back to my desk. Then Dawn takes her nap, and I enjoy peace. After which, Dawn wakes up. We rinse, and repeat.

My kids love being outdoors. We used to go out every weekend. With everything closed, it’s hard on them. We used to be stricter with video time, but now we have to relax that. Sibling conflicts are more frequent now that they are together more, but we hope this will eventually strengthen the bond between them, that they will learn to share quicker.

We set up three desks in the house, one in the living room where I work, one in my mother-in-law’s room where my wife, Huong, works, and one in our bedroom, which is a hideout. Huong’s work requires more rigid hours and she has lots of meetings during the day. She works in her mother’s bedroom so that she can concentrate. I mostly write code, so I can work next to the kids during the week. Sometimes we swap roles if I need to concentrate on my reading and writing. On weekends, Huong looks after them while I work in the hideout. I still keep my routine of getting up early, so I have another two quiet hours, from 5 to 7 AM, daily. Thankfully, we can still go out for exercise, so our days always end with a cycling trip around the reservoir.

When this is all over, I will bring Max and Dawn back to the zoo, the parks, the beaches, and the playgrounds — their beloved places. My wife and I have been talking about going on a date, something we haven’t done in a long time. Right now, we feel lucky that we have each other, that her mom is here helping us, and that we are still safe and healthy and have our jobs. This is the time for us to cherish each other.

“COVID-19 is a threat that attacks much more than our immune system -- it attacks our calm, filling the soul with fear, anguish and insecurities”

María Macarena Zarza
Bachelor of Science
National University of La Plata, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Museum, Buenos Aires, Argentina

25 April 2020

The terrible COVID-19 pandemic that has left us in a global lockdown, confronts us with something completely unexpected. This is distressing or even frightening for many. In my particular case, it was painful at first. My parents and sister are in an area bordering Paraguay practicing medicine in a health center that assists members of a community of Qom natives. There, they not only have to protect themselves from the COVID-19, but they also have to face the awful Dengue epidemic. The moment that compulsory quarantine was announced, I asked myself why I had not visited my city before all of this began. I was born in Clorinda (Formosa-Argentina) and at the age of 18, I emigrated to the great and overwhelming city of Buenos Aires to be a biologist specializing in Zooarchaeology. I am currently studying the paleoenvironment of the Argentine region of the Gran Chaco.

Now I wonder how my life once worked. I once aspired to live quietly and in my own way, without any obstacles or a stick in the wheel turning my life. I wanted to have home and work in order: practice a hobby, be with family, friends, acquaintances, always looking for the feeling of “control” over my body and my place in society. Suddenly came a moment  a long moment -- when everything turned around. In my case, something improved. The extra time I have during this lockdown permits me to read and think in silence. Sometimes it is difficult to find silence or peace in a laboratory, but now I miss the voices and laughter. Since the lockdown, I have been writing the first chapters of my thesis, and I have time to do yoga online and make elaborate and healthy meals. I also adopted a puppy that I am treating for diseases and parasites such as toxoplasmosis, which has immobilized its hind legs. The current health crisis has opened my eyes to things I would not have thought were possible, such as pets being abandoned by their owners. We are too often oblivious of the pain around us and I never took the time to stop and find out until now. 

Due to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in developing countries such as Argentina and the rest of Latin America, common problems become more visible. When I reflect on the man selling socks in his stall in the city center, or the lady who has a small hostel in some inland city I visited, women threatened and beaten in their homes, or the feeling of impotence of a man who cannot bring any food home, precarious workers incl. healthcare professionals who no longer have the strength to change their situation, the excessive disparity in the distribution of wealth... I realize that even something like this pandemic is not going to allow us to change. COVID-19 is a threat that attacks much more than our immune system  it attacks our calm, filling the soul with fear, anguish and insecurities.

I wish that what I love to do so much, this exciting practice that is science, were always accompanied by empathy. It would be comforting if all scientific findings could be directly implemented to better society. I believe that we must learn from the situation we are going through and undertake projects that always seek to give a voice to voiceless claims. 

The Early Pages thanks all authors for sharing their stories with us. If you have questions or comments, or you would like to share your story too, please leave a comment below. You are also welcome to connect with our authors via the linked channels above each contribution.


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