Living with Corona
The Corona crisis is setting the tone for 2020, and many unresolved issues continue to cause uncertainty and concern. How will the pandemic develop? What can we do to help contain the chains of infection? Which strategies make sense?
The following statement of the presidents of the non-university research organizations on the COVID 19 epidemic is based on mathematical analyses of the data situation:
The corona pandemic affects all of us but may concern us very differently. In this post, we ask how young international scientists at the LIN, who live and do research in Germany, are experiencing the crisis. Many of them have not seen their families and friends for almost a year. They experienced the first lockdown alone and sometimes isolated.
What is their personal view?
- Ayse Malci
“Resilience“ is the word that I have better understood the meaning in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic feels like a Sci-Fi movie and an unforgettable life experience at the same time. I am worried about my health, my PhD, my career, the country that I live in and particularly my family back in Turkey. I have spent the first lockdown by myself while struggling between my home office-tasks and the coronavirus news. Since then, I try to keep it up by having video calls with my family and my best friends who all live in different countries. The pandemic presumably brings more or less the same issues for everyone. However, I see that immigrants experience it slightly different from locals by having double concerns about the country of residence and their home countries. While I did not have the chance to visit my family already for a year, there was a devastating earthquake in my hometown in the past week. At the moment, all I can do is being patient and hope for the best. I believe in the power of science which gives me motivation and strength for the future."
- Armand Blondiaux
"Covid-19 is there to stay a bit longer and so I am to stay in Germany, in Magdeburg. Since I am more of an introvert, I could pretend that the isolation has not affected my life much but it could not be further away from the truth. Of course I have been worrying. Worrying about what is happening in France, in Germany, to my friends, my family. There is a strong feeling of powerlessness as there is nothing we can do except limit our travels and contacts. To vent out that frustration, I have spoken more with other internationals in the LIN, in Magdeburg. We shared what happened in our respective countries, voiced out our concerns to have a better grasp on them. So in the end, thank you to all of those who shared their experience with me, who helped me find comfort in these times."
- Marina Zempeltzi
"My name is Marina Zempeltzi, I come from central Greece and I am at the very last stage of my PhD at the LIN.
Covid19…I can still remember reading the news about the Corona Outbreak in China back in February 2020. I couldn’t even imagine the dimensions this story would take. From one day to the other we had to change our habits, we had to re-adapt to the ‘new normal’ eg. Home-office, social-distancing, lock-down. I always try to see the positive aspects during a novel situation. I keep motivating myself to use my time wisely, to benefit from the new experience, and to find workarounds. But there is a thing that was ‘the killer’ for me. That is the travel restrictions. As an international scientist with strong connections to my family and friends back home, I can admit that this is extremely frustrating. Not being able to visit your loved ones, seeing the kids growing and parents getting older as time comes by…can be traumatic. There is a constant feeling of helplessness while time is ‘the enemy’. In addition to that, Greece is still recovering from the latest financial crisis and the health system is rather unstable. Seriously, I do not worry about myself getting infected here in Germany but I do worry (a lot!) about my family and friends there, especially the last days, because the situation can be easily out of control. International students need to deal with this anxiety every single day, while we still need to perform at all other professional duties.
Let’s cross fingers for better days."
- Vivekanandhan Viswanathan
"As it has happened in the past, and even now, pandemics introduce disorder in our way of life as we know it. Being creatures of habit, we find ourselves in a situation forced to change. Yes, the pandemic threat was horrifying. I lost my granny during this period, and my it was through phone I had to make my goodbye, travel restrictions, anxious for parents’ health. I worried a lot but it quiet frankly did not help my mental tranquility. Later I realized, pandemics are about breaking with the past and reconceiving the world anew. Think of it as a journey! One can choose to travel more comfortably if one does a trade-off with the amount of baggage one wants to carry. Similarly, given the pandemic, we can choose to travel through this with carrying all the remains of hatred, greed, disappointment and prejudice or tread lightly with little baggage, relishing all the kindness and happiness one gets and gives along the journey. In my case, I chose to get engaged with my partner (My luggage - intended satirically) on this journey towards a Corona-free land, and that gave me hope, something good to look forward to. Having addressed the good, I would also like to throw caution about the threat we have at our door no longer, but our living room. So, let us tread lightly being ready to follow corona prevention measures onwards to our destination."
- Katrina Deane
"I wouldn’t say 2020 was a wasted year, but the pile-up of delays has been profound. Delays such as: anger at the response to the pandemic in the US, fear for my family without a way to get to them in the foreseeable future, rage at the federal response to the black lives matters protests, disowning of family members, developing constant nausea from anxiety, frustration and relief at being so far away from it all, and literal tennis elbow (mouse elbow really) from working at home, have all been ebbing away my productivity and my motivation. My lab and the institute have been hugely supportive through this mess which is the only reason I was able to move forward on work at all. I've also taken up distance bicycling which has improved my ability to cope with the stress. We’re moving towards the holiday season now in which family had planned to visit me and no longer can. I will spend it with friends instead."
- Nikhil Tiwari
"While I am typing this text, there is a grand festival season ongoing back home. I couldn’t go home, and the celebration is subdued due to ongoing pandemic. The pandemic has brought along many visible, invisible temporary and permanent changes. To say a few, I couldn’t go home and its very unclear when I can meet my family again. I know it will end but currently it’s gloomy. Apart from that I am very cautious about travelling around which I am very fond of. Also, when it comes to work, it makes me pretty anxious because I cannot plan anything ahead of coming 10 days, fearing strict lockdown. We have seen how quickly things change these days.
Some permanent marks that covid has is mostly with the time we are losing, with already cramped PhD period. It affects your mental health. To catchup, you work more, you work hard but then you end up replacing anxiety with exhaustion, duh. And along with that you are always surrounded with worries about your family and mostly parents. Time doesn’t stop, they grow old.
There isn’t only bad stuff that this phase has brought, for me. A few things are on greener side too. I feel, I have become more disciplined and adhere more to my routine. I have got more closer with people at LIN, we hear each other more, meet each other more and this gives a lot of comfort and a feeling of togetherness specially when everyone is riding the same storm."
- Carolina Montenegro
"These last few months have been difficult for everyone. Coronavirus came to remind us that no matter how much technology we have, knowledge, something we do not see or feel can kill us or change our lives. This pandemic has brought out the best and worst in each one of us and reminded me of a book by the writer José Saramago “Essay on Blindness”. This critical situation has taught us to value life, the freedom to do what we like, to listen to the sound of the trees moving, to appreciate even more what it means to hug a loved one that you cannot see or touch. The loss of a family member and not being able to fire him has been very hard for me. Thinking that my grandparents are old and maybe I won't see them again is something that saddens me, but at the same time it reminds me that to overcome this and be with our loved ones, we must learn to live with the virus, to control it, take precautions, to think as scientists how we can contribute and help to solve this in some way, for example by passing on information, educating people. As scientists, it is a task that we must do."
The Corona crisis is changing the world of work. Science is also affected by it. LIN scientists are finding new ways to continue their work under new conditions. Depending on each subject area and the research work involved, the challenges are diverse.
Psychologist Dr. Anni Richter talks about the challenges she currently experiences as a scientist.
As a psychologist, working with test participants is essential for your research. How would you describe your current work situation?
Currently, I work in home office and we cannot test volunteers at all.
What were the most relevant changes in your daily work routine?
While before Corona a lot of time and work had to be invested in the acquisition and testing of young and older study subjects, my work now focuses on the evaluation of the data already collected. We are lucky that we had already made good progress with our study.
Now our sample is already sufficiently large to finalize or test some analyses. So now I can really dive into the depths of statistical data analysis. Sounds exciting, but at first it seems to be a lot of work to check tables and evaluation scripts - which fortunately I like and enjoy. Furthermore, I'm giving my first lectures this semester. – of course in a digital format. It's a special challenge, but the premiere last week went well, which I'm very proud of.
What is the biggest challenge for you?
The biggest challenge for me is to relax after work. Even before Corona I had problems with this sometimes and the fact that professional and private space are not separated does not make it easier.
Are there also positive aspects for you?
Everything has advantages and disadvantages. While I used to sit in an office with up to three colleagues before Corona, I am currently sitting alone at my desk. Before, there was often a lot of hustle and bustle, but now it is more peaceful and quiet and I can concentrate much better. However, I really miss the tea breaks and the exchange of views with my colleagues.
Haydee Guadalupe Garcia Lazaro defended her doctoral thesis at the end of March under very special conditions. In this interview she gives an insight into how she experienced the situation.
You defended your thesis during the crisis. How was it?
I defended my Ph.D. thesis in the middle of the Corona crisis. It was not planned as such because when the examination committee agreed on the defense date, there was no sign that the SARS-COv2 would be a very fast extending pandemic.
Approximately two weeks before my defense, I was informed by my supervisor that due to the lockdown, all exams and thesis defenses were cancelled by the University until further notice and only in certain exceptional cases, they could be carried out. I was shocked because I had plans, and this disruption affected all, especially the one related to moving to my next Job. Fortunately, with the help of my supervisor and the chair of my examination committee, the Faculty Council approved running my defense as an exception. The defense took place on the 30th March in the Main Campus “as planned.” “As planned” refers exclusively to the date and time previously set, but honestly speaking it was kind of a weird situation. First, the entire two weeks before my defense, I was worried about my health and the health of my committee because I knew that in the case somebody would get sick, the defense must be cancelled.
The day was atypical in general, according to the health regulations the defense was closed for the public, only the committee and the secretary were allowed to be in the room. We had to keep the distance between each other for at least 2 meters (now we are becoming more familiar with this, but at the beginning, It was hard not to approaching people when explaining, listening, or asking something). Of course, there were no guests or celebration afterwards. Even offering a glass of water was not permitted. I was sorry for that because I knew that the Committee managed to be there, and I could not provide anything afterward, but the health was the priority.
What were the challenges for you in that situation?
I successfully defended my thesis, and I’m still happy about that, but honestly, during the preparation time, it was not easy to be focused all the time. I have family in México and Great Britain, and it was hard not to think of them many times a day. This pandemic is affecting many countries. My internal drive to get in contact very frequently with my relatives and friends to check that all of them are fine and healthy was sometimes hard to stop. I dealt with that, and I learned to be confident that they were/are doing everything to keep themselves safe and healthy. I learned that the best thing we could do is continue to do our work as well as possible, take care of ourselves and of course, take some time to relax. Eating healthy, sleeping well, and not worrying so much is the best way to keep our immune system in good condition to fight against the virus.
Working from home was not a big issue for me, even though discussing some questions with my colleagues and supervisor is easier face-to-face, the new technologies allow us to do that without any trouble. Through the years, I have also learned that having a comfortable place at home for work is very important.
I miss of course running my experiments in the LIN, I have an incomplete dataset from one very exciting MEG experiment, which I was running before the lockdown. As we work with human subjects, at the moment, it is not allowed to continue doing it, but I hope we can continue soon.
I confess as well that due to my scientific background, I have spent some time looking and reading some papers about the SARS-Cov2. It’s sometimes hard to stop paying attention to the updates about clinical trials, potential vaccines, treatments, and even dreaming about obtaining epidemiological data and running some analysis to contrast and compare them.
What positive effects do you take from this experience for yourself?
We take for granted a lot of things; this crisis has taught me that life and health are literally vital. There is no future if everybody is selfish. The only possible future is when we cooperate and make our community stronger. For example, in the LIN, it was possible to keep some things running because everybody took care and followed the rules for not exposing others.
Many LIN employees are in the home office because of the current situation. We collect and publish pictures of LIN scientists with the tag #ScienceAtHome.
The corona crisis is affecting our everyday life in an unprecedented way. In addition to the efforts of science to get the virus under control medically and epidemiologically as well as economically, there are first projects that are also researching the effects on other areas of life. How does the crisis affect work and family life, mental health, consumption, eating and shopping habits, social cohesion or expectations towards politics and administration?
Join in CitizenScience projects of our Leibniz colleagues:
- The Citizen Science project "Living with Corona" by Prof. Dr. Tilman Brück from the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops and ISDC - International Security and Development Center is researching life in times of the corona virus pandemic. The study is available at https://lifewithcorona.org/survey/. Results from the previous survey are published online at https://lifewithcorona.org/six-months-report/ and https://lifewithcorona.org/category/survey-insights/.
- At the Social Science Research Center Berlin, several researchers want to find out how the corona virus has changed the everyday life of people in Germany in a short period of time with regard to their work situation and family life. More information about the online survey and the results is available at corona-alltag.de