A Scientist without a Lab


Mahnoor Nadeem

A Scientist without a Lab

A first year DPhil student in the Medical Science Division working without a lab? 

The coronavirus pandemic has shut us all out for good measure and it can get pretty depressing at times to think of being at home all the time when you are an international student, away from your family for a DPhil and now you do not get to work.

Being a virologist, I would firstly state that it is all for the better. Since there is no cure for COVID-19 yet and vaccine development could take up to a year, social distancing is the best measure at the moment. It is important that you stay safe and ensure the safety of others by acting sensible and laying low for a while.

Coming back to the situation of being a scientist without a lab; well, there are various things you can do but first of all, RELAX. Clear your mind of all the panic and sit back to take a deep breath. Remember that it is not just your PhD that has come to a standstill, the entire world is at a halt right now. If you feel anxious, talk to your supervisor, advisor, peers and friends, try to voice your concerns and find solutions to them.

Working from home, you may not have a lot to do specially if you are a first year student and required being in the lab to work on those experiments and gather that data. However, it does not mean that you cannot be productive and do something worthwhile in the line of your degree. For example, you can use this time to indulge in literature review, read up papers on your area of work, annotate them, build your library and maintain a record of what you have done so far. This is seriously the best time to catch up on literature. If like me, you have switched fields, you can utilize this time to read books for basic knowledge or for building on what you think you already know.

You can also consider writing a review paper. Even if you are not too much into writing and struggle with it, you have to write a thesis at some point during your DPhil. Utilize this time to practice academic writing. Talk to your supervisor and discuss ideas with him. Get all the support you can and stay connected with you lab fellows through the internet. Remember, lab work is essential to a scientist but a strong and rigorous literature review can never go wrong. The important thing is that you stay motivated.

Above all, remember that you are not alone in this situation, the entire world is on hold. No one is going to blame you for not working, it is just an unavoidable situation that has put everyone’s plans in the backburner. It will do no good to dwell on a situation that is not in your hands. So, just relax, talk to people who can motivate you and provide you with a bit of clarity. Maintain a schedule, set up a study/work space at home and keep working.

Remember why you started, why you came so far and it will all sort out in the end – it always does.