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COVID-19: A Student Blog

In this guest post we hear from PhD Student, Andrea Di Antonio, as he tells us about his experience dealing with Coronavirus and the impact of lockdown on his studies.

Andrea with Charlie, the college cat.

“At the beginning of January, after a refreshing Christmas break with my family in Italy, I was back in Cambridge ready to complete a few data analyses to be included in the write-up of my PhD dissertation. Everything was going as planned until mid-January when the first cases of coronavirus were reported in China. Although the virus was already perceived as a threat, the general impression was that the chances for it to spread globally were minimum.

Just over a month later, however, a significant coronavirus outbreak in Italy forced the Italian government to put Northern Italy and, after only one week, the whole country in lockdown. Shortly after this decision, I realised that I was not going to leave Cambridge for a while as I could have not flown back home until further notice.

Meanwhile, the situation in the UK was not reassuring either.  An increase in the number of coronavirus cases led the Prime Minister to announce measurements of social distancing just a week after the lockdown in Italy was proclaimed. At the end of that same week, the University was going to shut down, and my Department encouraged us to start making arrangements to work from home. 

Andrea’s home workspace.

Working From Home

A few days later, after collecting some essential notes, my laptop and a couple of monitors from the lab, I started working from home. My research project mainly involves the analysis and interpretation of measurements from instruments that can be accessed remotely.  Hence, the repercussions linked to the shift in remote working should have been minimal, at least in principle. Despite this, adapting to unexpected changes is never easy, and this case was not an exception.

In the beginning, I struggled to focus on my work. It was difficult to concentrate in an environment where I was not used to working and without being surrounded by colleagues.  What I was missing more was the ordinary brainstorming sessions as well as social interactions. Besides, I kept thinking about the impact of this unprecedented situation on my family and my thesis.

Thankfully, I was always reassured by my family members, during our frequent video calls, that everyone was well and staying at home. Furthermore, I was able to arrange regular meetings with my supervisor as well as keeping the tea breaks with my colleagues running, even if remotely.  All of the above helped me to slowly adapt to this unusual routine.

In college before the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Life In Lockdown

Video calls, especially the ones with multiple participants, represented an excellent way to keep in touch with people as well as a reasonable alternative to the traditional gatherings during these times. Nevertheless, these calls can never replace a group celebration like the one my family was supposed to have on Easter Monday to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.

On the plus side, spending so much time at home allowed me to improve my cooking skills by trying new recipes that I never had the time to test before. This is something that I am hoping to keep going even when this period will be over.

In this unfavourable situation, however, I have been fortunate. Thanks to the nature of my research and the support received from my supervisor, my funding body and college, I have been affected by the lockdown less than other people

As things do seem to be slightly improving, a lot of uncertainty remains on when and how we will be back to a normal lifestyle. Nevertheless, I remain positive that the efforts put in vaccines development, some of which are already being tested, will bring us some good news soon.”

Andrea Di Antonio (PhD Chemistry, 2017)