Reflecting on unique opportunities fostered by the pandemic

Macy Vollbrecht

March 5, 2021

As we head into our first date of easing restrictions next week with U.K. schools reopening, I have been taking some time to reflect on some of the uniquely positive side-effects of life in Cambridge during lockdown and the pandemic in general. Daily life has undoubtedly become a bit more monotonous over this stretch of lockdown, so taking some time to think about the new, positive attributes has been refreshing.

Uniquely positive side-effects include:

  • Having set aside time that I cannot be in the lab. While this positive can easily feel negative on any given day when I would like to move experimental work forward, I have also found that my “off” days have provided really valuable headspace. On these days, I carve out time for data analysis, record keeping, and more detailed experimental planning. I find that I also take stock in my project and evaluate my progress in the context of my entire time at Cambridge. In normal times, it is so easy to get caught up in just doing doing doing the next experiment, that I personally find it harder to devote time to analyzing my data in new ways or contextualizing my results with my overarching project aims.
  • More time and flexibility to stay in touch with family and friends back home. Several of my list items relate to opportunities that have been fostered by the pandemic-induced increase in virtual communication. If this was a non-pandemic year, I would of course still be communicating with U.S. resident connections over the phone, but I think those calls would be fewer and further in between. It is easier to carve out time to make calls when activities like lab or socializing are quite restricted, so I have enjoyed the general ease with which I can keep in touch with friends and family back home.
  • That I have found a wonderful support network within my household and COVID bubble. I and others have alluded to this previously, but 64 Storey’s Way has been a really welcoming and fun home. I am grateful to come home to a lively crew of sociable and interesting people. We have no doubt been brought together by being a COVID “bubble,” but we have embraced our bubbling and we have had a lot of fun with it.
  • I cook somewhat more interesting things (and more often) than I think I would if life was its normal, hectic self. I think this one has been further encouraged by the constant cooking of new (and ambitious) dishes by my house mates.
This picture is from a Sunday night house dinner where Jasmine and I made homemade pizzas.
  • I have joined a statistics book club, and our group spans the Atlantic Ocean due to its virtual nature. This is another opportunity that felt easy with the now common virtual meeting format. I have met people that I never would have in a normal year, and I’m not sure whether I would have been as keen to add a book club to my schedule during normal times.
  • I can attend parts of the prospective student visit for the PhD program that I will start next fall. The Stanford Biosciences PhD program’s recruitment event is occurring virtually this week, which means that the recruitment events start around 4:30 pm GMT. I asked to join in on a few events since some of this year’s interviewees will be in my cohort (thanks Jasmine for the idea!). I was able to attend a few faculty talks and a lab’s office hours, both of which were great and of course enabled by the virtual format.

I hope that a few of these “uniquely” positive side-effects of the pandemic actually persist as we approach a world in which many are vaccinated and bits of normalcy are re-introduced. I am interested to see how things like working from home and holding virtual meetings and conferences continue in the years to come. I of course also recognize that lockdown and the pandemic have brought hardships to many, and this list of positive things is not meant to diminish those hardships, but rather to foster positivity about these weird times if and when it feels helpful to do so. I am looking forward to continuing to enjoy these and other aspects of life in Cambridge, which has recently included the beautiful weather and longer days.

King’s College with some rare blue skies in the background. I took this picture on my bike ride home from the Sainsbury laboratory.

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