Over the past nine weeks of the lockdown researchers have been working hard in our laboratories and hospitals, taking on the challenges of the CV19 pandemic. Although my own research has played no part, I’m still proud and – inspired – at being part of a research community that is doing so much to fight the pandemic.
Almost all researchers and research support staff are now working from home, progressing their research as best they can, sometime in challenging environments. Meeting with the research students and postdocs in my research group, all of whom are at home, over video conferencing I am struck by their resilience and flexibility, but also the wide range of their circumstances – three of my postdocs are outside the UK and unable to enter, others are locked-down alone in digs in Oxford, and others have new babies in their families. I hope I have managed to agree appropriate ways to maintain research momentum that accounts for individual circumstances, but it has been a steep learning curve for all the group. The funders of my group researchers, without exception, have been understanding and supportive and this has been much appreciated. Nonetheless, I know many research students and fixed term contract researchers across the University are anxious about the impact of the lockdown on their research and the implications on funding, and while some funders have provided some clarity and support, my team and I are working with other funders to provide clarity and reassurance wherever possible.
One of things I have being working on is the process to get researchers and others safely back into buildings, through a number of pilot programmes, so they can restart research that is impossible to progress from home. The learning that is being gained from these pilot back to on-site working programmes is being used to inform the plans of other departments and libraries, which will roll-out their on-site working programmes in due course. Please see my email from last week for more detail.
I have also been chairing the University’s new Covid Response Research Fund, established through the generosity of donors who want to back the University’s research ideas to combat the virus. In just a few weeks there have been some brilliant ideas from many different subject areas, and in some cases we have managed to get significant new lines of research started almost immediately. I hope we can keep this new found agility after the current crisis ends.
There are many challenges ahead to rebuild fully our research momentum, but after a necessarily long period of stasis, I feel there is at last movement – albeit slowly at first – towards a more recognizable future.