In the coming days, the SDRC are publishing a series of blogs featuring Early Career Researchers who are sharing how COVID has impacted their research and career prospectsToday’s blog is by Maria Drummond, PhD Student at the University of Glasgow

My name is Maria Drummond and next month I’ll be progressing into the third (and hopefully final) year of my PhD at the University of Glasgow. My research is related to the development of an intervention to support caregivers of people with life limiting conditions, with a focus on caregivers of people with dementia. I’m supervised by Professor Bridget Johnston and Dr Terry Quinn.

I’m on a studentship and a clinical academic pathway so there’s an expectation that I remain in clinical practice for 20% of my week. Prior to maternity leave this equated to one dayshift in the district nursing service. But when I returned to work, I moved into the out of hours service and now I work two evenings a week. This was a great arrangement because it gave me a day off during the week to spend with my son at Bookbug and toddler gymnastics. But that’s all changed since lockdown.

Now, the first half of every day is spent entertaining my son until his 90-minute nap. Then it’s time for the academic equivalent of Supermarket Sweep! Usually it’s a mad rush to check and respond to emails, and then squeeze some work in. I’ve been finalising a secondary data analysis paper and I’m also analysing focus groups and interviews with caregivers of people with dementia. One project is dealing with quantitative data and the other, qualitative. Initially, my brain was struggling to shift into different gears quickly, but I’m getting better at it. With some gentle tweaking to the naps I’ve also managed to have almost all my zoom meetings undisturbed. As soon as nap time is over though, it’s back into mum mode. I don’t start working again in the evenings as soon as my husband gets home from work. Usually I wait until after dinner because we think it’s important to spend this time of the day all together.

Unfortunately, the pandemic prematurely ended recruitment to my focus groups and interviews. I have mixed feelings about this because, although I understand why recruitment has stopped, it’s still frustrating and worrying. I’d been working really hard at recruitment, pursuing every avenue available to get as many people involved as possible. So, it felt strange emailing people who had expressed an interest in participating just before lockdown that they were no longer needed. 

The pandemic has also had a dramatic impact on my clinical role. As predicted, there’s been a significant increase in the demand for palliative and end of life care. But all the usual pressures of the job still exist, and the mental toll of lockdown is an increasing challenge. Recently, I was visiting a woman to administer routine medication. Just as I was getting ready to leave her house, she told me how lonely she was. I sat with her and we looked through a photo album as she cried while sharing the stories behind the photos. Our exchanged words slightly muffled as they came out from behind PPE masks. And in my pocket, I could feel my phone vibrate. Texts from my co-ordinator: “check schedule, visit for breakthrough added”. We’re told that the peak may have passed, but there’s a long road ahead to get to the bottom.

Lockdown juggling a frontline job, a toddler and a PhD is an emotional rollercoaster. I love my subject area and I’m determined not to fall behind, but the days can be long and tiring. I also feel quite drained after stressful shifts that can affect my sleep, and negative feelings often eat into the next day. Ultimately though, I’m thankful that we’re healthy and I’m getting extra time to spend with my son.

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