What is your role at the University?
I have been at Oxford for around four years in the Department of Psychiatry team, and I have two roles which I love. One of those is working as a senior scientist managing scientific research across multiple multi-disciplinary projects, the other is Senior Data Manager for Dementias Platform UK (DPUK).
My research interests include mental health, lifestyle, biomedical and healthcare – with a current focus on child abuse and later life dementia. My data manager role involves a cohort data repository for 40+ cohorts (more than 3 million participants), working in the research group of Professor John Gallacher. The data portal I manage enables research and analyses at a scale that has not previously been possible, which is helping experts detect the earliest signs of dementia.
Both roles are very full on and before lockdown a typical day would find me – by choice – in my office from 6am to 6pm.
What impact has lockdown had on your work?
An enormous impact, and being identified as being particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 resulted in me having to work in isolation earlier than most and means that I continue to shelter.
Because I really do love what I do I have always worked from home out of hours at times, but to do so from necessity rather than choice has been a huge shock to the system – and to the way I work.
I usually have two computers and six screens (earning me the nickname Spock) so my first priority was arranging to have as much equipment with me at home as possible. Wayne Davies, our IT & Facilities Manager, was amazing and very efficiently sorted everything out to enable me to have 50% of my usual equipment at home.
My work also involves public engagement which sees me delivering workshops and speaking at events around the world. This means that I am usually travelling around a lot so being at home constantly is another big change for me.
How are you managing working from home?
With great difficulty as I live in a remote village that has exceptionally poor internet connection and next to no phone signal. Every day brings new challenges.
Other family members are also working and studying from home so we have had to divide the day up to allow us all priority time to access the internet, with a calendar for booking in any diarised events when we really need to steal it from the others.
It doesn’t always work out, though, and, with the poor phone and internet connections on top of that, phone calls made in the driveway and joining virtual meetings parked up in the car are part of my new daily routine.
The one thing that has completely shone through this experience is how vital the University’s support staff are to its research and education
What kind of impact is that having on you?
It’s draining as you can imagine, and coupled with that is that I miss going into work. I really miss seeing my team – the usual daily interactions with them usually lift me.
I’m also so busy with my new schedule – which at times is like wading through treacle – that I’ve been neglecting myself and my wellbeing. I think that we all need to ensure that we block some time out of this strange new normal to look out for ourselves. My manager is very supportive though and reminds me to do so.
And how is it affecting your research?
My research work is suffering; I just can’t do everything I need to do from home. Again, I’m so lucky to have such great support from my department. Wayne and Moira Westwood, our Departmental Administrator, have gone out of their way to find a solution to allow me some time in my office, which I hope to start soon. Following their very thorough risk assessment, we’ve determined that the only way to do it safely is for me to go in on a Saturday. I’m so grateful that they’re making that possible.
Others are providing valuable support too. As an example, Julie Richards from the Finance team has done some amazing work for my grant applications, which have included last-minute bids and amendments. She’s worked flat out for me firing emails everywhere, and of course it isn’t just me receiving all this support.
Do you think there will be some permanent work changes post-COVID?
Yes, I think there may be a healthy rethink about the academic world. I think we have made hopping onto a plane to share and learn from research a norm; I imagine a lot more of our international engagement will be virtual in the future – great news for the University’s carbon footprint!
There’s also potential for changes to the working week, with more people spending some of their time working remotely on particular projects, rather than commuting every day – another great bonus for our carbon emissions too.
However, for me the one thing that has completely shone through this experience is how vital the University’s support staff are to its research and education. I have so much appreciation for the value they bring and I hope that they realise just how important they are – I couldn’t function without them.