Life under COVID-19 situation as a Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher

SARS-COV-2 virus, shortly known nowadays as the coronavirus, has changed the world over the past few months as many of us could have not imagined when we embarked on our A-WEAR voyage. In a cross-cultural program involving significant inter-country mobility with international events, lockdowns of several grades of severity in various countries of the Consortium have put a strain on some members of our team, while motivating the others to dedicate more time and energy to the work aspects. Here is the feedback from our Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) collected at the end of May 2020- beginning of June 2020 with regards to their experiences in the five EU countries of our Consortium (Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Romania, and Spain).

What has been the most challenging part for you during the lockdowns and travel restrictions created by COVID-19 situation since March 2020?

Several fellows shared their experiences below.

  • This situation, in which we all unexpectedly found ourselves, has become the source of several problems for me. The most obvious of them for those who have not directly encountered COVID-19 is the lack of lively communication, walks, touches, hugs, kisses, handshaking. Moreover, it has been very difficult to be away from your loved ones and not be able to take care of them if necessary. Not the least role has been played by fears of becoming infected and to infect others; hopelessness when you watch the disappointing statistics of victims; anxieties, caused by thoughts about where to get masks, gloves, and disinfectants, and wondering when it will all end. All these problems do not work in the best way on the psyche, causing anxiety and depression, the strength of which is still underestimated in modern society.
  • Travelling restrictions created a havoc inside me, I hope soon this pandemic will end and I can spend my days with my family and come back easily without any hurdle or restrictions on boarders.
  • The most challenging part for me has been the travel restrictions. I was planning to go home in April. But, with all the airports being closed and considering the risks that I can cause for me and for my family once I arrive there, I decided to postpone the travel, hoping that I can do it in the summer.
  • The most challenging part for me is the lockdown of borders. Even though I wanted to visit my family during summer the soonest, the idea that I could change my mind at any time made me calm. Nowadays, this is not possible, which automatically triggers a certain amount of fear in me, mainly because “what if something happens and I am not there to help them?”.
  • Restrictions created by COVID-19 have also adversely affected on the psycho-emotional state. This was the period in life when you check news related to the pandemic every day, but the situation becomes even more serious and dangerous; when all plans are just canceled, and you cannot meet your close relatives; when every new day repeats the previous one; when there is spring outside, but there is no possibility to enjoy it; when it is prohibited to have a walk or jogging, etc. In this situation, the most challenging part was not to fall into a depressive state at the first stage of self-isolation, but to successfully overcome all stages of acceptance of the inevitable.
  • Now we live under the lockdown restrictions. And, the scale of this pandemic is indeed catastrophic.  Of course, we can’t change or fix this situation. However, as they say, when you can’t influence the situation, accept it, and benefit from it. But the hardest part was accepting it, which seems simple at first sight. I’ve gone through all five stages of acceptance: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Here we are! It was the first sizeable psychological issue in my life, and it was not easy to cope with it. I guess the separation from my family can explain it.  In this situation, it is important to be in your family circle. Anyway, I do agree with the saying that bad experiences are in fact the most poignant and help us best to test our limits!

Have you discovered new rewarding aspects in your life as a researcher triggered by COVID-19 situation? If yes, please describe them briefly.

  • Definitely. I find myself more productive in my research progress. I have more clear ideas and ability to take risk and to try new techniques. This crisis somehow rewards me with a ‘myself-time’ where we have started knowing ourselves better and have better ways to tackle any bad situation.
  • I have discovered, or more precisely I confirmed to myself, the fact that I do not need many external attributes to create my own motivation and to enjoy working in any environment.  At the beginning of the crisis, I had concerns about how to keep the motivation to work each day without being surrounded, as usual, by other colleagues in the lab. However, after few days of the lockdown, I was able to create my own motivation to make progress in my research work.
  • I think that the situation of coronavirus could teach us to value the developmental society which we created so far. As a result of freezing the economy, tasks connected to working or everyday life have become challenging. A common issue such as ordering the packages from online services seems to be nothing special. However, during the lockdown, I have experienced latency of even 3 weeks of delivery to my flat.  Something that makes you annoyed like this during quarantine finally forcing you to appreciate what we have normally, not during the pandemic situation.
  • I took advantage of the “new” scheduling opportunity and identified my most effective working hours. During that time, I have focused on my most important/complicated work, without any distractions that I sometimes had at the university. Also, when my head feels tired, I take few minutes to go out to the park or forest for a walk or do some yoga. It really helps me to focus more and my body feels more relaxed. I also eat healthier food as I have the benefit of my kitchen being close. I believe that feeling better physically and mentally helps me to improve my work results as well.
  • Coronavirus has brought benefits to the research community: comfortable conditions; convenient work schedule; less time-consuming, but more effective meetings and calls. As a result, work has become more productive. It should be noted that in the future, it may be a good practice to combine remote work and work at university (for example, three days at university and two days at home). Such a schedule will significantly improve work efficiency.
  • First, the benefits came with comfy clothes; secondly, all you need during the workday is available at any time, further, time-schedule (you can choose day or night-time for working, or both of them).

How do you cope with uncertainty of the future? Do you have some advices to share with us?

  • One of the useful strategies that help to cope with anxieties about the uncertainty of the future is to describe the problems that concern you, unfavorable options for the development of events, ways you can prevent them, and a plan for what you will do if it suddenly happens.
  • For example, let’s take the fear of getting sick. What needs to be done to minimize risk? To leave home only if necessary, not to contact other people in public places, if possible, to use protective equipment. What to do if you suspect that you have become infected? To stay at home, as isolated as possible from other people, to call a doctor, and to continue to follow the instructions that (s)he will give you. In my opinion, such an analysis allows you to “put your thoughts on the shelves”, reduce anxiety and uncertainty of your future.
  • Another useful way might be to use meditation and hypnosis. Currently, there are a lot of applications that will help you with this. This is a good way to relax and even to set yourself up for new achievements: for example, there is special hypnosis that can help you stop procrastinating, start eating right, enjoy exercise, and much more.
  • In this period, I think one should think more positive than negative, as this will eventually help to manage the uncertainties.
  • Uncertainty of the future is something that we need to cope with in general, not only during crises. One advice I have in mind is to share your concerns with other people, friends, family, or colleagues. Exposing and showing your concerns is not something shameful or private that you should keep to yourself. In contrast, knowing how other people are dealing with these concerns might help you better cope with your own situation by taking some lessons and advices.
  • I call my mum at least twice a day! And my grandparents every second day at minimum! Also, I forced them to use WhatsApp so we can chat “face to face”. Nothing helps me to cope more, than seeing them being ok and happy.
  • In such situations, it is crucial to accept uncertainty and live for the day. Support and love of family, work – the more, the better – self-development, and sports will help to cope with uncertainty of the future.

As it could be seen from the replies, there are many natural limitations brought by COVID-19 but our ESRs are still able to find something positive about the isolation!