Today’s blog is part of our COVID Impact blog series, where we are sharing the experiences of ECRs whose research has been affected by COVID, as well as helpful insights and tips to how to work through this time. If you are a dementia or brain health researcher and would like to share your story of how COVID has affected you work, get more information here and get in touch with us. 

Today’s blog is by Josie Fullerton, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Glasgow

Never lose your sparkle

This all feels very unreal, and it will probably be years before I believe that this has actually happened. These ‘unprecedented times’ have affected us all and my blog is just a snapshot of how COVID-19 has impacted my work as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Dr Lorraine Work’s lab at the University of Glasgow.

Firstly, I have been very lucky. The Friday before lockdown, my partner Gavin and I moved into our new house and completed the sale of our flat, then lockdown kicked in on the Monday. On a normal day, I am a vascular dementia researcher working with clinical, preclinical and in vitro stroke samples, but with our building closed, biological unit shut, I unpacked our things and set up shop to work from my very new home.

I’m not going to lie – it was hard to get my head into work mode, and that’s not taking into account the DIY storm that was going on around me (my personal favourite was the day my ‘office’ door was removed, as it ‘needed fixed’!). I started online courses, made good progress with a review and kept my head down as best I could, all the while trying not to think about when I would next get to see my family, friends, colleagues or horse again!

Secondly, I’m very lucky in another respect, I have an extremely caring, supportive and understanding PI. Lorraine arranges weekly team and individual catch ups to check in with us to see how we were all doing. Our worlds had just been turned upside down, our lovely lab had been shut and all our research progress had ground to a halt, so our chats with Lorraine created a bit of normality, in a very abnormal world!

All our research plans, progress and adventures had to be dropped. At the start of the year I was thrilled to be awarded the Graham Wilson travel scholarship, I was due to visit Professor Chantal Boulanger’s lab in Paris to learn novel research techniques, but this was now off. I was also given the wonderful opportunity to take on an ISSF Wellcome funded summer student to improve my supervisory and project planning skills – but I had to tell the wonderful candidates that I could no longer take anyone on. And days before lockdown, I had been granted the NHS Endowment fund, this is to support an independent project which I am extremely excited about! As an ECR, this grant will enhance my research portfolio and help me develop as an independent scientist, but this too must be put on hold.

Then this word ‘furlough’ popped up. I had never heard of it before, and I was about to hear it a whole lot more. At first this word seemed to have negative connotations, “So, they’ve been furloughed…” “That’s awful, are they ok?” – either way, it didn’t affect me as I was typing away at home, doing courses, thinking about future science and getting back to normal. But the more Lorraine and I thought about it, the more it made sense to add me to the furlough scheme – which is far more positive than it first sounded! I was being paid by a grant, which I could not fulfil the aims of; but this way the clock is paused, the workload will be more realistic for when I return to the lab, and the grant money isn’t wasted on my working from home efforts!

So, I am furloughed and unfortunately due to my asthma, I can’t volunteer in the Lighthouse lab, but I’m grand and trying to use this time as best I can. It’s near impossible to find the positives in a global pandemic, when you can’t see your family or friends, my wee gran is at risk in a care home, and my lockdown buddy is due to be sent to Taiwan for work any day now. However, as researchers, we will never be given time like this again. Our job is to stay in and use our time to develop personally and professionally. Whether that’s through DIY, online courses, reading papers, attempting sourdough, taking part in never ending quizzes or by getting fit.

But my main aim through all this, is to never lose my sparkle!

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