8 April 2020
The public have never been more aware of the impact of scientific findings on political decision-making than in the current reporting on COVID-19. That being said, the day-to-day work of almost all researchers—regardless of their discipline—has been severely disrupted by the measures to curb the spread of the virus. We spoke with 8 doctoral researchers from different departments and universities in Hamburg about the current situation. What impact is the pandemic having on their daily work and their doctoral dissertation? What new challenges are they facing and what specifically helps them to keep going? We were also interested to hear what long-term effects they expect the pandemic to have on science and scholarship.
“I was on a conference trip in Egypt and now I’m locked out of Germany. The travel restrictions that involved shutting down Egyptian airspace occurred when I was supposed to fly back […]. Therefore, I am of course unable to resume normal laboratory work. […] I am anxious about the time wasted every day and the work delay. Will I be able to finish in time?” Stranded abroad and worrying about every day out of the lab—Ola Nadas’ current situation sounds like an extreme example. But similar existential worries can also arise while working from home—if childcare is no longer available (as in the case of Elise Schobeß and Hubert Fudjumdjum) and concentrating on work is barely possible in the midst of everyday family life. Due to the time-limited nature of employment contracts and funding, the time currently being lost almost always raises financing questions. For Yvonne Siegmund and Sally Dacie, the coronavirus pandemic also means waiting, as no oral defenses are being conducted at their universities until further notice. Sally Dacie is hoping to complete her oral defense online: “Of course, in that case some of the ceremony would be missing; all the hugs and the cardboard hat, but I wouldn’t mind too much.”
Despite all the adjustments and personal worries, many still see the crisis as an opportunity: for digitalization, an intensification of the international cooperation in science and scholarship, strengthened scientific communication, and a new social relevance for science and scholarship in general.
The doctoral researchers we spoke with have attempted to adjust their daily lives to the new circumstances in a variety of ways. “Despite the flexibility of working from home, I try to stick to set working hours, after that I can talk to family and friends, watch series or movies, and prepare something delicious for dinner. Regular online meetings with my subject group and a close exchange with my supervisor also really motivate me,” says Eduardo Gresse. The other doctoral researchers interviewed also find a structured daily routine and complementary activities such as walks in nature, reading a long-anticipated novel, or a virtual lunch helpful. Ola Nada particularly appreciates the online offers of University Sports: “They help ease the stress of being housebound all day by offering different workouts.”