We. Are. Back

These are some reflections of my colleague and fellow Green Heart Runner, Cristina (on the left), on lockdown frustrations as a scientist, finding new interests and reigniting old ones, and the excitement at being able to return to the lab this week to do what she was born to do!

We are back. We. Are. Back. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t been able to sleep properly the past days since we got told that Tuesday 23rd, 9am, the labs of the Medical School were re-opening. That or the warmer temperatures, but the excitement reminded me of those young years, the night before Christmas (for me the night before The Wise Men Day, 6th of January), when I couldn’t stop thinking about what would I find, wrapped up, under the Christmas tree (for me next to my shoes).

It has been a long path of ups and downs, especially the last few weeks. I could feel my patience slipping away at the end of May, as although the government had said that research could restart, there was so much to do at the University to get the buildings and labs ready for people to start coming back. I felt helpless as I couldn’t find peace in those things I have enjoyed during lockdown, because I must admit, a teeny-weeny part of me smiled when we were sent home.

To be more precise, I didn’t even get sent home. I was in Spain in mid-March, when the pandemic started to turn into a reality, so when I rushed back to avoid getting stranded, I had to isolate for two weeks. I remember very well receiving an email on a Thursday afternoon saying that the labs were to be shut down next day; I didn’t get time to say goodbye.

However, I felt this was an opportunity to pick up those crafts that I had once brought home, but never found time or energy to do. I enjoyed some knitting, macramé, grew a herb garden from seeds, spent time in the garden (watching Tom doing it up), got 20 new indoors plants (I now manage to keep them alive, yay!) and even did some baking! By then, a couple of months into lockdown, I felt that I was running out of things to do – hence the baking, which I haven’t done in some 20 years.

The first days (even weeks) of lockdown were very frustrating, as many other colleagues would agree. We are research scientists. It felt like this time we were needed, more than ever. Instead, we were sent home like many others. We had experience with techniques used for testing and we were used to working in a lab (risks assessments and COSHH forms included). Why would we not be there in the front line helping? I signed up to volunteer three times for different roles, as soon as the emails asking for help arrived. However, we waited and waited, but it was clear that we were to stay at home.

I managed to keep active with daily walks, online classes, yoga (which a couple of lab mates joined) and running. I even ran my first ever 10k. This was a massive achievement and part of the merit goes to Robbie and the Green Heart Runners club he set up. It has been fantastic to run and discover different routes around campus, and he has made a massive effort to keep us all motivated and running during isolation. I particularly enjoyed the photo competitions set-up by Jess, as I do like to take a picture or two every now and then.

This time has taught us many things, and for me, it has made it even clearer that I belong in the lab. I’m not good sat in front of a computer all day. My attention span, normally not great, was down to nothing due to the situation – I stopped watching the news after two weeks, because it was not doing any good. I tried hard to ‘work from home’ and read some scientific literature, did some programming training, and completed some online courses. I still felt useless, as I don’t see this as my work (even though I know this ‘is’ part of my job), but somehow, the fact that we could not do any experiments to carry on our research felt very frustrating.

I’m aware that are still lots of people that won’t come back to their workplace for a few weeks or months. I know that we are lucky we didn’t need to worry about our job situation and the University tried to support us the best it could. Strangely, now that we are back, it feels like lock-down was only a week ‘away’ from the lab, instead of the long months that are now thankfully behind us. Crossing the Medical School doors, switching on the tissue culture cabinet and holding a pipette again, felt like it was yesterday I was juggling several experiments at the same time, and felt like I was born to be there.

Cristina Escribano González

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