How have I experienced life during the Coronavirus pandemic?

I am a coastal scientist working at an Australian university. As I write this in September, restrictions have now eased significantly, although life is far from back to normal. How have I experienced COVID-19?

Lockdown ran from March to the end of May. I am grateful to still have the permanent job that I had at the beginning of the year. My partner and I have a mortgage, children and there are people who help us to get through the juggle of life (a nanny, a gardener, a cleaner), who we have continued to support throughout. This wouldn’t have been possible without our salaries. That said, we have faced income cuts. I booked all my recreational leave to go down to a four day week. This has helped me juggle my job and childcare responsibilities. It has also relived fiscal pressure on my university employer, which has just announced that 200 job cuts are on the horizon. We aren’t out of the woods yet.

On the home front, both of our young boys (aged 3 and 7) were home during lockdown as their childcare centre and school closed. My days were a chaotic mix of tending to family and work needs. When it all got a bit much, I took the dog out for a walk, went for a run or planted something in the garden. These activities grounded me.

Planting vegetables in the garden at the beginning of lockdown, March 2020

On the teaching front, the classes I deliver went online. Lectures now happen through Zoom, I talk to a bank of black screens. I have met around five of my hundred or so students. They seem relieved to see and speak to someone in person. I have a newfound appreciation for the nuances of personal interactions while teaching. Facial expressions and body language have much to offer both the teacher and the learner while communicating knowledge. This is something I previously took for granted.

My research activity has gone down a couple of gears. Fieldwork has ground to a halt as my sites are interstate and the Australian state borders are closed. The University is no longer accepting international graduate students. I have a first year PhD student stuck overseas, trying to get what she can done. I offer ideas of desk-based projects she can cut her teeth on, but it seems a bit hapless with the uncertainty of how and when she can collect some of the own data. I write up papers that have bottle-necked over the last couple of years. Most academics are probably sitting on 3 – 4 unwritten papers and can use this time to get them finished up.

As lockdown began, the Great Barrier Reef bleached again. As the southern sector turned white, I wondered about the opportunities missed to observe how these last unbleached reefs were faring.

What scientific questions are going unanswered… could these provide useful information that helps us to manage the impacts of climate change?” 

We are a society that depends heavily on University research. Every day, academics on the news teach us about viruses, providing insights on the best practices to prevent the spread of disease, reporting on vaccine developments. Epidemiologists are looking tired under the strain of it all. In Australia, the University community has been challenged by the lack of government financial support and cuts to student funding.  

Sometimes I just want to sail away on a boat. Then older family members remind me there have much worse times than this in living memory. I am heartened by the depth of support, understanding, patience and empathy that I see in work colleagues and students. Bill Gates reckons this will all be over in 2021, we just need to hold on until then…

About the Author: Dr Sarah Hamylton

Sarah has worked on tropical coastlines for the last 15 years. She has been lucky enough to work in some varied locations, including Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles), Cocos (Keeling) Atoll, the Great Barrier Reef, Fiji, Belize and the Red Sea. Currently based at the University of Wollongong as Associate Professor. Find out more about Sarah here and follow her on Twitter.

Posted on: 30/09/2020, by :