SARS-CoV-2 virus, referred to globally as Covid19, has caused countless lockdowns across the world. It has remained headline news throughout 2020 and, at the time of writing, there are estimated to have been over 71 million cases worldwide, with over 1.6 million deaths attributed to Covid19*.
The end may be in sight for lockdowns. On Tuesday 8th December, the first patient received the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination in the UK. However, many are still reeling from the impact of the March-May extended lockdown.
While China and other countries managed spread of the virus with testing and localised lockdowns, many countries all over the world instigated national shut-downs from March 2020. The UK was locked down for 3 months, March-June, following similar European lockdowns in countries like Italy, Spain and France. Denmark was the second European country to impose a national lockdown but was then the first to re-open schools after a couple of months. Carla Ximena, from Bolivia, was finishing her PhD in Copenhagen at the time.
“It was funny when I thought about the virus and what it means in plants – constantly making parallels. My son is still interested in how a virus replicates and this prompted him to ask about it. This is a virus which we are learning to see as a companion, which alerts us to remain in good health, eating and sleeping well, but also to keep up good spirits. As a Christian I felt reassured in my faith. I have worked with obligate parasites and ascomycetes for my PhD. My biotroph died on me twice, still I managed to find another isolate. If I had been in the middle of experiments it would have died without my attention but luckily it is all finished: I am in the writing process. Ever since the crisis, I would like to put more attention on the diseases caused by viruses in plants, especially on the host of my preference at the moment, quinoa.”
Students have perhaps been most hard hit, from school students with disrupted lessons and final exams, to first year university students experiencing locked-down studies and being restricted to halls of residence, away from home. BSPP PhD students described how they coped with the consequences of unexpected breaks in their studies in the UK in this August blog.
In Germany, the government launched a series of advertisements to encourage people to socially distance and restrict spread of the virus. In November, an article in ‘The Local, Germany’ described how one advert (below) focusses on the ‘young heroes who fought the 2020 pandemic’ by mustering ‘all our courage and did what was expected of us…Absolutely nothing.’
The German Govt’s latest Corona advert – now subtitled in English. Quite good. pic.twitter.com/nbRZIm9RcN
— Axel Antoni (@antoni_UK) November 14, 2020
Clearly, for researchers, this was not quite true. Plant pathologists were looking for a new sense of direction while holding back on the desire to explore through laboratory/field research. Jan Hübbers, a PhD student in Ralph Panstruga’s Lab, Aachen University, Germany described his experience:
2020 – The week before Easter
“Alone at home…again. Forced leave, decreed by the university for all “non-essential” employees. Due to the shutdown of all teaching activities my roommates left to head for their homes. My mother and her partner are risk patients and thus Easter with the family is cancelled. Technically seen I’m on vacation, but for what purpose? I can hardly imagine that being locked up in my apartment for two weeks without seeing a living thing except for my cactus will contribute to recharging my batteries. Anyway, I find it difficult to get the work out of my head. What about the plants? Sure, Anja will keep them alive but the experiments I planned with them…I can only hope that the number of cases drops and we are allowed to return to the lab, soon. To achieve some kind of compensation I decided to promote some writing side projects. A good old short review forcing me to dig a little deeper in the literature and giving me some stuff for the introduction of my thesis is certainly never bad.
There is this saying, “Work to live and not live to work”. Interestingly, the Covid time, especially the lockdown, showed me how much I like my work. Maybe it is just about the great people working with me or having the feeling of doing something meaningful but in the end. I recognized that my work is my passion – even if this sounds a bit dramatic.”
Another member of the lab, Hannah Thieron, writes an update on research under current conditions:
“As a third year PhD student who was planning to submit next year, the current situation is unsettling. Despite the fact we are still allowed to do lab work, we are asked to be at our home office when possible. In addition, there is always worry that we have to stop for a new full lockdown. Consequently, research in the time of Covid19 for me has become denser and the priorities have shifted. I am trying to structure my jobs as sensibly as possible and reduce lab time where feasible. Experiments generating huge amounts of data have become highly attractive to ensure productive home office periods. Nevertheless, I feel very lucky to be able to perform any lab work at all.”
What has your experience of research in the time of Covid19 been? We are keen to share this dialogue and also explore ways that the BSPP can support students working through this time.
*Covid global cases and death estimates from: WHO COVID-19 Dashboard