The first case of Covid-19 in Austria appeared on the 25th of February. From then on, we watched the exponential increase of cases. We tried to continue our every day work at the University of Linz, taking advantage of the fact that both our practical laboratory courses had been just cancelled on the 10th of March, so we could focus on experiments. However, this joy didn’t last long. On Friday the 13th, we had to shut down all our labs and we were sent on home office.
Before our boss sent us on home that day she told us: “The time to write has come”. Indeed, as experimental physicists we usually enjoy more working in the lab than writing down our results. We accumulate tons of data, which we only carefully analyse when we cannot go on with experiments anymore. We run around with the “finished” scientific manuscript in our heads for months, before we actually sit down to write it down. So now, the Covid-19 has given us the perfect chance to that which we might have involuntarily shifted for later: analyse all these data and write down manuscripts.
Effective home office combined with jogging
I remember when on Thursday the 12th of March my PhD student Gizem messaged me worried that she had heard that they would shut down the labs. She had a number of experiments planed for the coming weeks. “Andrea, what am I going to do now?” She asked me. I answered the same that our boss would tell us the next day: “You should summarize your data and start writing them down”. But this is easier said than done.
I realized that on day one of home office, when I spent the first hours just reading emails. Before noon I decided to go jogging alone in the woods because of the nice weather. Finally, after lunch, I managed to pull myself together and to start working on a review article that I had wanted to start writing back in January and which I should submit before the end of April. From that moment on, the writing became a lot easier.
I have since been writing more effectively than I would have ever been done while sitting in my office at the University. The reason for this: when I’m at the University I am constantly distracted. I usually visit my PhD student Gizem in the lab, and if the current experiment is exciting, I can stay there longer than I sometimes should. Then I also have to do own experiments or supervise the writing progress of my Master student, Aleks. And of course, I get distracted talking with colleagues about every day life.
In home office, even though we have a WhatsApp group, I do not get distracted so easily. Mostly because I wear headphones, as music helps me to work more efficiently. However, in order to compensate the lack of movement, I go jogging in the woods around our place. This perfect efficient work-sport balance has helped me advance much more than I ever though I could achieve in two weeks. If I continue at this rate, I might submit my manuscript before the quarantine ends. And that would be an absolute record for me!
Effective home-office with a family
The lockdown came on the day that was the birthday of my son Rudy. Since my wife works as a PhD at the University, the birthday celebration was planned for the evening and the sudden change of situation took its toll. The evening of Friday the 13th was a quiet affair for us: the birthday cake, the lovely Indian dishes tasted delicious, but there was a sense of strangeness. The countrywide lockdown followed soon and I as an experimental physicist was now forced to do home office.
For me this was the maiden experience of home office. An experimental scientist doesn’t normally get the privilege to be at home and conduct experiments just by connecting online to his experimental set-ups. However, as they say, truth is stranger than fiction. I remember watching some documentaries on the bubonic plague and pandemics of the past during the Christmas holidays and within ninety days, we were facing a similar catastrophe that threatens humanity.
So, a new way of life for me started. My primary target was to finish my pending manuscripts and I took the opportunity with both hands. But as they say: humans propose and nature disposes. During these first two weeks, I started getting the theses of my Bachelor and Master students for corrections and my home office has been spent on correcting them. Occasionally, I could read some journal papers and books, apart from having the regular zoom meetings with my boss and tracking the spread of the virus across the globe.
Being a family person and having a son, who should do home-learning, I have been able to spend a lot of time with him helping him with his assignments. The real fun came one day when he had to do an assignment on volcanoes for geography and he came to me asking for help and fell into the trap! Little did he knew that I am a big enthusiast of natural disasters. So, he had to swallow the bitter uninteresting story of the Krakatoa eruption from 1883. But he survived the session, and in absence of my students and colleagues to lecture around, my family has to suffer my boring lectures. I try to crack jokes, since stand-up comedy was one of my passion in younger days and I try to keep entertaining my family and my colleagues through WhatsApp.
As the lockdown enters the third week, I am getting used to the home-office and the pending manuscripts, data analysis and lecture preparation starts to accelerate. The hope that the pandemic will subdue soon, makes way into my thought process even though my mind is still a bit cluttered and disordered as my home working desk.
The corona crisis experience
Some might think that because we are physicists, social distancing should not be so difficult for us. There are numerous memes about physicists feeling relieved after learning that one cannot be infected if one avoids social contact. Well that’s not the way it is. We stay in touch via WhatsApp and we are always looking forward to our weekly group meeting via video conference, where we can share our experiences about home office.
As we all know, the current situation might keep us doing home office for some more weeks before we can slowly restart our machines at the laboratories. Nevertheless, we expect the outcome of the corona crisis to be at least two finished manuscripts ready to be submitted and new ideas obtained from the data evaluation and journal reading. We have to see the positive side of this: had we not been sent for home office, those manuscripts would probably still linger in our desks, and heads, for many more months to come. (Andrea Navarro-Quezada, Rajdeep Adhikari, 31.3.2020)
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