“When the craic is over”
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has changed the life of almost every person on the planet. In Dublin, restrictions of public life have been tight and are only now being relaxed. People were advised to stay at home at all times and leaving the house was only permitted to buy groceries, go the doctor or exercise briefly. All of this was restricted to a two kilometer radius of the own home with police checkpoints in the streets, making sure that these rules are followed. Only now are we seeing these rules being relaxed, with the number of daily cases dropping. The ever-busy city center, usually bursting with energy became a ghost town with every shop, restaurant and pub closing down. It is slowly coming back to life. Despite this, in the suburbs, the seemingly unbreakable Irish spirit drives people out of their homes and onto the streets once a ray of sunshine breaks through the clouds.
As with most scientists who are not directly involved in COVID-19 research, I am currently unable to continue my PhD project in the lab. This is especially frustrating as an immunologist doing research on the very mechanisms, that protect us from viral infections. Research institutes and campuses are closed and entry to the laboratories is only granted in extraordinary circumstances. The only way to work on my project is at home on the computer. This might be possible for one to two weeks, but not for a few months.
No PhD student can afford to rent their own apartment in Dublin, so for most students this means being stuck at home with two to five flat mates – a situation that can be challenging at times. Being an expat, times like these come with an uncertainty on whether to stay or to move back to my home countrt for a while. Not only are 95 percent of international flights cancelled, travel policies evolve daily and the possibility of being rejected entry into some countries is very real, even within Europe.
Despite all these unpleasant experiences, the forced brake from the lab also offers the possibility to focus on things outside of the immediate work project. The overall slower lifestyle reduces stress for many students and might even be beneficial for some people’s mental health. Dedicating the newly gained time to something useful sparks creativity and allows people to reconnect with friends, family and community in a new way. As much as everyone wishes for this pandemic to end, it is now about making the best of a bad situation and seizing new possibilities.
Hauke Weiß is a German PhD based in Ireland