By Biplabi Bhattharai (University of Tartu)
The scariest word of 2020 for me was “stay-home”. Last winter had me itching to get back to travelling and see the world, to visit my family, or just to hang out with friends. I had been waiting for the spring/summer to come and had dreamt about all those hikings, travellings, visiting my family, and then ……BOOM !!! the coronavirus pandemic turned everything upside down.
And apart from my non-academic plans for 2020, the situation seemed to crash my extremely unavoidable field sampling in Iceland that was supposed to take place almost every alternate month throughout the spring and summer of 2020.
The beginning of March was okay. Not so many cases here in Estonia. Three online classes and two days of lab work. We made a schedule with our lab mates so that only one person is working at a time in the lab. But at the same time, I was dealing with an unusual challenge: working from home for the first time, full-time. Distraction was one of the biggest challenges I was facing. My room, my kitchen, my TV, and my household chores were right in front of me. It means that whatever I was usually thinking about getting home to after work was now with me. I must say that the working from the home thing for me was relatively a failure and I consoled myself by exaggerating the fact that it’s very human to get distracted!
But as time passed by there came a point of lockdown where we missed our field trip to Iceland which was planned for April. This brought some disappointments as we missed one of our important sampling seasons. This encouraged us to think beforehand and plan (and have many alternate plans) for our next field trip which was anticipated in June. Slowly things started getting easier and travel restrictions to Iceland became looser allowing us to carry our sampling in June under the condition that we get tested on arrival and were negative. With this enthusiasm, we travelled to Iceland with many stopovers got tested, and were allowed to work.
The moment we landed and came to know that our luggage (full of field gears) was still in transit in Oslo and we would only receive it after 5 days, me and my supervisor didn’t have any other choice except to pretend to be okay. There is a long story about this incidence which could be a brand new blog in itself. You know what, when you are a researcher studying how plants adapt to changing climate somehow you learn to adapt yourself to situations:-). Despite the rain, wind, and hailstone all together working in the field for me was far better than the “work from home” thing. You can see a clip of our work here.
But this was not the only time we needed to travel to Iceland. We travelled again in August. The same testing procedures, the same quarantine. Now, this had become like a routine. The major problem came in October when we had our next sampling session (again with a long flight with multiple layovers) and get our first test and strictly quarantine ourselves for next week until we are tested again and our test results were negative. I came back to Estonia with my sampling mission completed. Even then the pandemic challenges didn’t stop. I had to process the samples as soon as possible in one hand and on the other I needed to quarantine for two weeks. This was possible when I processed the samples in my apartment or in my ‘Home-Lab’.
Finally, after spending almost all my summer in quarantine (either in Iceland or here in Estonia) and after my brain being poked through my nose with that stick a dozen of times, I am proud to say- I have my samples!!!…I have my data!!!!
And yes I am still working from home most of the time and I still believe it’s very human to get distracted!!