The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated an unprecedented and coordinated response from every corner of the community, and this includes ARMI. To do our bit to help ‘flatten the curve,’ ARMI implemented its working from home plan in late March. For scientists who are often in the lab doing experiments, trying to troubleshoot by talking to the colleagues sitting around the, and presenting their research to large groups, this time has proven challenging- but not impossible. ARMI Director of Research Professor Peter Currie shares his perspective, tips and tricks on the current environment. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. This Part II of a two-part series. Read Part I here.
Q: What do you miss most about ARMI?
A: Well, it’s definitely the people, the face-to-face communications. I like to think we have a good social interactive culture. We have some pinch points around the tea room and the casual conversations are always very rich. I like hearing, incidentally, what each of the group leaders or postdocs and students are planning in their research or what problems they’re trying to overcome. I find that very rewarding.
I really like the staff, the Office of the Director staff that I work with, and I enjoy their company a lot. I miss the social intellectual stimulation that just comes with being a social animal. That’s really what I miss the most, enriching my own life with the exploits of everybody else’s. That’s what we all miss, I think.
I miss the social intellectual stimulation that just comes with being a social animal. That’s really what I miss the most, enriching my own life with the exploits of everybody else’s.
I really like my lab too- my personal laboratory research is going very well. I’ve got some magnificent scientists in my group at the moment. I miss incidental conversations, even though I’m talking with them one-on-one every week, just being able to provide or get information from them more casually. And I just miss interacting with them because they’re great people.
It’s the human element that I think most people would say probably from everyone who has a job that they miss. After all, human beings, for better or for worse, are social animals and to even curtail that in the fairly limited way that we’ve done is actually quite an awkward scenario for even scientists who are notoriously not very social.
That’s kind of what I miss about being there.
Q: So during this time, how are you taking care of yourself?
A: I have other hobbies that have always been on-hold for a long time. So I forced myself because I can’t be on the computer nine or ten hours a day, physically. So I have to stop myself from doing that.
So we have a rather large garden that I have forced myself to wander around and pull out weeds for. I’ve also gone back to my music- I do play classical guitar and I’ve started to pick up some of the pieces again. I can’t believe that period of time has elapsed since I last played. And I have an aspiration to do better in drawing and art. So I’ve taken a couple of online courses on drawing- just to make sure I’m physically not working all the time.
So actually I have found that immensely rewarding. And I have a whole bunch of lockdown reading as well. I think I’ve hit a good rhythm actually in this lockdown where I made sure that I am not just working 24 hours a day. I’m trying to use this as an opportunity, not view it as a shutting off of activities or experiences, but use the time that I have freed up by not going backwards and forwards to work all the time to introduce other elements into my life that I’ve neglected for many years.
I’m trying to use this as an opportunity, not view it as a shutting off of activities or experiences, but use the time that I have freed up by not going backwards and forwards to work all the time to introduce other elements into my life that I’ve neglected for many years.
I feel a bit more like I can do some of these things. So maybe in some way, I’ll be able to keep some of these patterns going. So I’m a more well-rounded individual. That’s the aim.
Q: So do you have any tips and tricks to help the people at ARMI to see this time through?
A: I think it is tough for some folk. I’m lucky I have a big house with a big garden and the things that I have to put up with are moderate. I really think it’s important that you try and view some aspect of this as an opportunity, not just an imprisonment, [an opportunity] that you’ve been given time to do the things you want to do. And, I think it’s very important not just to be limited by the things you can’t do, but to be enriched by the things that you’ve been able to do.
That’s how I’ve tried to view it, and that’s what I would urge other people to do. Read that book you’ve always been wanting to read, take up those things. So for some people, they can’t do their hobbies inside their house. But concentrate on those things that you have and enrich yourself as much as you can. And stay in contact with your friends. To be honest with you, I think that situation is much more difficult for my generation who are not used to social media.
I think actually everyone that I can note, my children and most of the lab are actually keeping pretty good contact with each other. So that’s really not a lesson anyone needs to learn. But I think I would say try to switch it around, not be limited by the things you can’t do, but think about the things that this situation can enable. There’s nothing wrong with being on your own or being collected with your own thoughts.
It’s actually a quite motivating and powerful thing. It can’t happen 24 hours a day, I know, but, think of the things you could concentrate on and achieve or think about. I do really feel for those people who are living on their own. I hadn’t really thought much about this because most of the people I know are in share houses or families. But that’s quite a tricky situation because they actually have nobody to immediately bounce off with problems or issues. So I do worry about those people quite a bit.
And my advice would be to remain connected.
And my advice would be to remain connected. But I’m trying to view this as an opportunity to do things that I haven’t had time to do before or want or haven’t had time to reconnect with or read literature or books or something. Now, even science that I haven’t read before, topics that I haven’t been familiar with and then try to use the opportunity to do that.
Q: So one final question. What will be the first thing you’ll do once you’re back at ARMI?
A: Well, if there’s milk in the fridge I’ll be making a coffee. Hopefully, I’ll be able to say hello to somebody going up the stairs towards the tea room. There might be somebody who’ll be waiting in line, waiting in line, socially distant, waiting to use the coffee machine that will have a conversation with me. I’ll make a beeline for the coffee machine.