Welcome to the first BACR blog! My name is Demi Wiskerke and I am your BACR Student Rep. I am a second year PhD student at Barts Cancer Institute in London.
As you may have guessed, my journey this year has been far from ordinary. I remember waiting for my western blot to develop just before Christmas 2019 and reading BBC News when COVID-19 hit. Back then it was merely something we mentioned to each other as an awful distant headline that would go away in 2020. I could not have been more wrong. In March, we went from being in the lab every single day to being strongly advised not to come back for a while.
Most of you will recognise this when I say that, before lockdown, my PhD was my life. Waking up panicked in the middle of the night thinking of experiments was a regular occurrence (I know I am not alone!). As a PhD student, we put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves. Secretly we strive for a high impact first author paper before the end of our final year. However, this is unrealistic for most of us, even at the best of times. Throw in an ongoing global pandemic and lab restrictions, and it’s mission impossible.
Knowing this would last a little while, I decided to leave London and spend the first few months with family. This was the best decision I could have made. As an international student who will potentially stay in the UK indefinitely, I took this as an opportunity to spend quality time with my family. Was having coffee with my parents and my sister in the sunshine the most productive thing to be doing during working hours? No. Did it make me happier than anything I could have achieved on my laptop or in the lab? Most definitely.
Speaking of coffee, our PI organised an online coffee club at 11am for our group to catch up. Every. Single. Day. When you have a PI who is so involved and cares about our wellbeing, it is not difficult to stay motivated and keep working hard. Still, these past few months have been a massive test of my dedication, discipline and perseverance. I spent lockdown writing my introduction of my thesis, my methods and parts of my chapters. This allowed me to think about my results and discover gaps in my thesis and my data. In addition, I taught myself skills like working with Adobe Illustrator and InDesign, which will come in handy throughout my career. I also tried my hand at some bioinformatics which I just could not comprehend, so I will leave that to the experts.
Now, being back in the lab for 4 hours a day, my project makes more sense in my head, I have a clear plan for my final year, and I am excited to go back every day, even on the weekends. As awful as this time has been and will continue to be, I have rediscovered what makes me happy and spent invaluable time with people closest to me. What more could you ask for? A PhD, perhaps? Well, if this pandemic can’t stop us, nothing will!
I would like to reach out to all the BACR members, especially students, and invite you to share your experience. Please send an email to email@example.com if you would like to write a blogpost.
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