Lockdown Conversations 2.0 – How to tide over the Covid-19 pandemic?

Note: This is the second of a two-part interview series. You can see the first part here. 

At the dawn of this year, not any one of us would have even imagined that the whole world, within months, would be obsessed by a word hitherto familiar only to a sprinkling of scientists. But this word “coronavirus” today seems omnipresent. The pandemic situation caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, termed COVID-19, has changed the lives of people in more than one way.

While most of us are still battling to get acquainted with the lockdown orders in many parts of the world, we asked some researchers to reflect on the current state-of-affairs, on how they cope with it, and provide pointers for early career researchers.

Excerpts from the e-mail interview:

“You need a car if you want to race”!

 Prof. Alex Costa, University of Milan, Italy

1. This current lockdown seems to be unprecedented in recent history. How do you see the whole situation around it?

I am Italian and the situation is not easy. Actually, I work at the University of Milan, one of the first universities to have been closed and even before the lockdown, the undergrad and bachelor students, as well as postdocs, had limited access and had to stop their research. Even though my laboratory is in Milan we feel very lucky as so far we do not have relatives or friends who are positive for COVID-19.

Nevertheless, being a scientist, I can fairly say that common people have probably better understood how important research is for a country. Believe me or not, but science and scientists will solve this situation – they can be medical doctors, engineers, biologists, etc. – but once this situation ends, people will look at them in a different way, something that we need in Italy, where science is poorly considered.

2. How has this lockdown impacted your research work?

Negatively. Being at home with family is indeed nice, particularly for me, as I commute between Milan and Padova during the weekends. However, since my family is stuck at home, it makes difficult to have a quiet environment and gain proper concentration.

In addition, I am often distracted by other things, including wanting to be always updated on how the situation evolves, in the hope that there will be improvements.

3. Do you agree with the argument that this lockdown might help take the pressure off researchers?

I do not agree with this. Being a scientist means you have to stay with fellow scientists. I feel like a ‘Formula One’ driver – you need a car if you want to race. In my case, I need the lab and my labmates for me to remain a scientist. I need to have continuous feedback from the people I work with and staying at home does limit this. And getting rid of some pressure has the effect to reduce my stimuli. As in any case, maintaining equilibrium is the right thing. Being jailed at home might be good for a couple of days or a week, but then I need to be in the ‘arena’ with the ‘lions’.

4. Tell us about any new app/program/software that you have learnt (or planning to learn) to use during this time.

This is the positive thing about this situation. I have started to use Microsoft Teams to do my online classes, to register my classes and to interact with my students. I have made a team with the students where we have a shared chat and where we post articles or they ask questions or make comments. I can individually speak with them about topics related to the lectures. Surely, this is probably eased by the fact that the students are also stuck at home, instead of going outside to do the ‘Happy hour’.

Moreover, I have the time to watch webinars and online seminars.

5. Some people are of the opinion that this time can be used to write review articles. Do you agree or do you think it will create a barrage of redundant reviews?

I think there is a real risk of writing redundant reviews, and I must honestly admit that I am going to write two because I have been invited to do it. However, I would have preferred to have enough new data to write original work instead. I can promise that I’ll try to avoid being redundant.

“Real challenge is not being able to go to the lab”

 Dr. Rucha Karnik, University of Glasgow, UK

1. This current lockdown seems to be unprecedented in recent history. How do you see the whole situation around it? 

We are in times when technology and medicine are highly advanced, and yet the pandemic and the associated lockdown has brought us to face some very challenging situations, it’s quite surreal.

2. What do you suggest students who were in the middle of crucial experiments and didn’t see this closure coming?

The situation with the pandemic evolved very quickly and experiments had to be paused in a very short time. Ultimately being in the lab and conducting experiments is vital for any research student or academic. For students, especially in the early phases of PhD, it is very important to lean and get hands-on experience in research work. Nevertheless, it is always good to read up on published literature and to plan for your research project.

3. While the phrase “work from home” sounds comfortable, what are the real challenges that researchers encounter while working from home?

Perhaps the real challenge is not being able to go to the lab and test an idea experimentally.

4. Tell us about some new apps/software/programs that you use to tide over these difficult times

Well, we are all engaging with colleagues and researchers on software like Teams and Zoom!

5. Some journals have come up with guidelines to support researchers in this time of difficulty. What do you think is the role of journals at this time and what more do you think they can do?

In modern times, journals contribute a lot to develop the scientific temper for researchers in different stages of their career and facilitate scientific communications. Such roles of journals have become even more crucial for the scientific community in the present times

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