Summer is the time for research for staff and students alike. This year we are all in lock-down because of covid-19. Lock-down and social distancing are difficult for everyone and we deal with it in our own ways. For students who are away from home and family, it can be particularly challenging especially for those from overseas.
The uncertainties of border closures, partial or regional lock-downs, changing regulations on quarantine, air corridors and requirements for self-isolation confuse and create anxiety. Separation from family and close friends for extended periods leads to a constant state of uneasiness and foreboding that undermines concentration in all but the most focused individuals.
One of my students has completed her dissertation weeks before the deadline – she wants to go home and has rushed through the process. The others are in various stages, one has not started, two have written a couple of thousand words before stalling, another is plodding along. All want to go home while the going is good – their main fears are closure of routes and being stranded far from home if a second wave sweeps the globe.
Our online meetings have changed, they are still about the intellectual aspects of their work, but the balance has shifted to the pastoral. Each meeting begins with their assurances that they are well, and keeping happy. We focus on the academic then move to social chit-chat. This is when I am told that they are worried about their ability to concentrate; this they express as personal failure to cope with the stress or disavowal of the stress they feel. We share experiences, fears, worries and joyful moments, reassure each other that we are not alone.
We are learning new skills, how to read each other through poor connections, voice without video; cross-culture, cross-language, cross-generation. The cues are in a subtle change in pitch or tone of voice, the making or breaking of eye contact, pauses, gestures, the silent communications of sentient beings one to another. If anything comes of this pandemic let it be a gentler, more aware, more considerate world.
Finally we work through a strategy to complete the work.