By Vaidehi Narsingh (imec, Belgium)

Beginning your doctoral journey is an academic adventure, especially if you are moving to a new city. As, I was settling my life in this time zone, learning Dutch, finding accommodation, and the ‘culture shock’ in general, the lockdown happened. It would be a lie if I said this historical event and the uncertainties revolving around the pandemic did not cause me anxiety and a feeling of being socially isolated and separated from my loved ones. But as every coin has two sides, this unprecedented circumstance also positively changed my outlook towards life and pushed me to be resilient and revitalize.

Looking at the journey down memory lane, I realize it is a Ph.D. anniversary month, and it has been an invaluable learning curve with ups and downs. Back at the beginning of April, though it was a lockdown, the sun was shining, and the colors of spring were blooming. I started with a formal literature review, identifying the research gap on ‘computational modeling of complex ecological system’. Classes and conferences moved online and our first FutureArctic training event happened virtually in July.

As the summer began, the days grew longer, and life eased slightly closer to normal. One by one, the zoom calls disappeared, work from office once a week was set in motion, the travel restrictions eased, friends and colleagues were reunited. But it did not last long, the blue summer sky faded to slightly lighter shades of grey, and I found myself once again confined to apartment with my research work. However, this also did not last long either, as I was soon accompanied by healthcare workers taking care of me. FYI not covid!

Finally, scary September and ominous October turned into nurturing November reuniting me with my family and friends. During those glorious days after treatment, working from the dining table on the spatio-temporal data for causal discovery, felt rejuvenated.On a more personal note, I began to put a lot of effort into finding my balance and keeping good mental and physical health. The Art of Living in the New Normal inculcated mindfulness and meditation in my morning self-care routine. Practicing breathwork, spiritual meditation, yoga, writing a gratitude journal, mandala art, to do list of professional and personal tasks helped me to have a growth mindset, improved my mood as well as motivation, and helped me to focus on my work. Evening routine, comprised of trying and exploring new flavor of the meal, nature walks, reading and diary entry, it boosts my self-esteem. Although these activities were imposed by the context, I wish to maintain most of them in the future and continue to work on my personal development which is, in my view, vital to succeed in my Ph.D.

Indeed, it was a roller coaster ride, however, was also fortunate to have a considerate supervisor, co-supervisor, and team. Nevertheless, we all are in the same storm but different boats. It is therefore crucial, to take the time to reflect, reframe and refocus in the new normal.

Be positive and test negative.