Day in the Life of an Academic #11: Lockdown 2

November 5th marked the start of the second national lockdown in England. Lockdown 2 shouldn’t be particularly inconvenient as far as my household is concerned, given that schools and universities are still running, that we have more space, and that our way of life changed since last March (meaning that it doesn’t represent such a drastic change in our daily routines). Still, it is a sad occasion, and it is a scary time at the national level. On a side note, this date also marks the 13th anniversary of my PhD viva.

In the spirit of staying in control in the middle of the chaos caused by something 0.125 microns in diameter, and of making something good out of a bad situation, I decided to schedule a “writing hour”, first thing on Thursday mornings – starting on the first day of lockdown, and running until the lockdown ends. By “first thing” I mean 6-7 am. Yes, it’s early, but it means that I can get it done before I need to step into the mum role, the teacher role, and so on. Plus, whatever the day throws at me, I will have that small victory under my belt. 

So, I set the alarm for 5h45m. I got out of bed, washed my face and got dressed quickly, made myself a coffee and sat down to work on a paper’s revisions. I had invited my colleagues to join me, though, unsurprisingly no one did. But that’s fine. I am doing this for my benefit, really.

At 7 am the alarm goes off. It’s time for the kiddo to get out of bed, and ready for his school day. My writing session wasn’t as productive as it should have been because I spent a lot of time hunting for the right file. You would think that after so many years of working with digital files I would know that spending a few seconds deciding in which folder to save my work, and how to name it would save me many, many, many minutes later! But, apparently, it’s a lesson I have yet to learn. Argh…

I had breakfast with the kiddo. After he left for school, I went for a walk. It’s my commute, these days. A sort of transition from the mother & home roles into work mode, and an opportunity to listen to some podcasts. 

In my walk, this morning, I caught up on the US elections. My favourite coverage of the US elections is by this Portuguese source (from journalists at the flagship newspaper, Expresso). It provides more contextual information and explanations than US based sources; and is less bland than the BBC, with their focus on balance.

Back at home, I tidy up the kitchen, get another espresso, and seat at my desk (this photo makes me realise that I need better lightening, plus something interesting on the walls).

I should move on to working on a report that is due, soon, but I decided to continue working on the paper revisions, from this morning instead.

10h44m: I finished the revisions, uploaded all files to Dropbox, and texted my co-author to let her know that the files are ready for a final read-through, and to be proof-read before they are submitted. Time for a comfort / tea / stretch-the-legs break. Ten minutes later, I was back at my desk. I decide to spend some time on admin tasks. This included entering workload allocations in the system, and replying to various e-mails.

11h34m: Time to work the on next task: The final report from the Techne doctoral bootcamp that I hosted with Mark Carrigan, in September. It was meant to be a one-day, face to face workshop at Brunel. But, then, Covid-19 happened. We were faced with two options: indefinitely postponing the event until face-to-face meetings became viable, or moving the training session online. We decided to go for the latter. So, instead of the face-to-face, day long event on Brunel campus, we offered an online bootcamp consisting of four weekly sessions of 2 hours each, with a break in the middle, on Zoom. That turned out to be a great decision. In our view, it resulted in a much better learning (and teaching) experience, it was more inclusive (e.g., for those living far, or working part-time, or with caring responsibilities), and it allowed for more networking and mutual support for the participants. Mark and I penned a post for the LSE Impact blog about our experience, which should be published very soon.

At 12h47m I had finished the draft for the report, and sent it to my co-author. Then, time for lunch. While munching on some leftovers, I watched a little bit of this really interesting – if depressing – documentary of the role of white-male identity in US politics.

At 1pm, I had a meeting relating to a grant proposal looking at the use of digital technology to access local government services during the Covid-19 crisis. My Internet was not cooperating, so I had to quickly relocate to another part of the house.

At 1h30m, another meeting. This time with student who is considering pausing their studies because they can’t find any part-time work at the moment to supplement their finances. We discussed several options and sources of support, but, eventually, concluded that, all things considered, this would be the best option for the student. Getting further into debt would not be good long-term, and it is hard to focus on your studies when you are worrying about finances.

At 2 pm, another meeting with a student. This time, I was reminded of the challenges of spending long stretches of time in isolation, and trying to balance studies with worries about the wellbeing of older relatives, and worries about the state of the job market when they finish their degree. It is so, so sad to see how this crisis is ruining the lives of young people.

I was struggling to focus after these meetings, so I decide to take a short break to gather my thoughts before the next meeting. I just sat outside for a few minutes, gathering my thoughts.

At 2h40m I started preparing for my next meeting. The internet was even worse than earlier in the day. Thank god I did not have any teaching today, or it would have been a disaster!!!! I started walking around the house trying to find a corner with suitable WIFI. It reminded me of the opening scene of the movie Parasite. Anyway, I found a good enough corner, and sat down for the next meeting, at 2h45m, to talk about plans for a new paper with someone at another institution.

The meeting finished at 3h15m. I looked at my e-mail, and saw that my co-author had sent me comments on the Techne report. I checked the comments, did some minor edits, and sent it off. One more item off my to do list. Yay.

A few more e-mails dealt with, and then I left to pick up my son from school. There was noticeably less car traffic than the same time last week. When we got back home, we decided to take advantage of the last bit of day light, and went to the back garden. I did some cardio, while the kiddo practiced his shots.

After snacks and showers, I pottered about in the kitchen. I decided to make some soup to use the pumpkin left from Halloween. And, then, things snowballed and I ended up baking chocolate and pear cake, and bread, too. Bizarre!

The bread was from a recipe in the Co-Op’s shop magazine, and it was super easy and delicious! I loved it, and will be making it again, for sure.

I dealt with e-mails while things were baking, and dinner was cooking. We had dinner at 8ish, and then caught up with The Apprentice. After that, I looked at my diary and planned my work for the day after. Then, off to bed.

Before preparing this post, I looked at the previous DITL one and realised that it had been written during lockdown, too. This day certainly felt a lot more accomplished than the previous one. A sign that human beings really can get used to most things. 

How has our daily routine changed in the last 7 months?

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