This blog offers insights from members of our Italy Regional Network, who provide an account of some of their personal and professional experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Edited by S McAuliffe & M McGirr
Four months ago, the first time I heard about the “new type of coronavirus”, I was thinking “ok, it’s just a flu! Everything is so overstated. The virus is here but far from us, it’s dangerous but not if you are a normal weight, healthy adult. Life goes on and in a few weeks we’ll be back to normal”. Since then, my life has totally changed. Millions of people have been infected or died and this time people were our neighbours, our relatives and friends. The lockdown has frozen our life and we have understood that this frightening situation would have become our new normality. I was coming back to work in January after 8 months of maternity leave and, just some weeks after, I was at home again trying to manage my personal and professional life, more time suspended and things at a standstill. Without time limits, 24/7 I was doing my best to be a good mum, wife and also be an accurate and timely worker. I’m spending a lot of time with my baby, the best of these months of lockdown, but I’ve never stopped working. A lot of data to be processed, papers to be written, online meetings, and projects ongoing. We have many irons in the fire and we can keep working hard without being affected for now.
The stay-at-home claim, the rainbow drawings outside the houses, social distancing, masks, friends and relatives on the phone screen will be the memories of this period of my life. I feel very blessed, we are all safe. We have also learned a few things that I hope we will remember in the future.
Significantly. Both work and personal activities have changed quite a lot. Research activities have suffered too and most of the ongoing projects have been redefined, postponed, or delayed. This is particularly relevant for a few human studies that have been completely blocked. The good point is that we are processing data and producing deliverables at a fast pace, giving value to some projects that were somehow blocked. Priorities changed, but hard work never stopped. Teaching activities have turned into less reciprocal exchanges with students. We had to adapt teaching activities and exams to suit the new situation. Definitely not an easy task, although I have to say that all involved (students, teachers, and university services) did a great job to make this situation work and get things done. I'm quite happy with the commitment demonstrated by the students, despite the difficulties they may have with working remotely.
Working from home has been a challenge. An agreement between family and job responsibilities, trying to make the most of this situation and enjoy both things: discovering new angles of family life and improving my capabilities to work efficiently. I think it has been a very productive period in every way. The perfect storm to review some aspects and grow both as a person and as a professional.
It was Wednesday, the 4th of March, the last day I spent in a laboratory, in my usual work space.
On that morning, some technicians suddenly switched the useless laboratory in front of our office into a daily operative centre for Covid-19 swab extraction. In the afternoon, I greeted my colleagues, as always, and the day after, we all unexpectedly started a new working reality: smart working.
I think our work could partially carried out in every place more generally, and the pandemic has demonstrated this. We had megabytes of data to elaborate, and megabytes of data already elaborated, but not yet critically analysed and scientifically written. Hence, this unreal situation gave us the opportunity to slow down the experimental part of our work and to clean up some old notebook folders, publishing interesting scientific papers. We learned all possible platforms for online meetings, we recorded university lessons, we undertook exams… Finally, I think we made the situation work and “nutrition science has gone on”.
Today is the 4th of June and I really miss my laboratory and my normality.
During these 3 months, I have merged work with family, with a 1 year old and a 3 year old, drastically modifying my job schedule. I have worked as a researcher early in the morning, late in the night and when the children slept. The rest of the day I was a distracted mom and wife, without any break, without any time, without any routine, with my laptop always switched on up above the kitchen table when I was preparing the lunch or the dinner. Or in the garden, where with one hand I pushed the kids on the swing and with the other I answered e-mails.
I love my family and I love my work, and the pandemic taught me the need to separate these two realities to give my best to both my family and to science.
In December 2019 I was appointed as Assistant Professor at the University of Teramo and so I moved from my place in Parma – where I was Post-Doc – to Teramo, a totally new town for me.
For this reason I only spent few months enjoying my new position before the COVID-19 lockdown. At the beginning of this period I felt alone and a bit sad for this restriction, at a time just when I was starting my new life.
However I took advantage being closed home by improving my relationship with friends and colleagues. Particularly with the latter – most of them were in the same situation – we enjoyed having on-line meetings and thinking about new projects and ideas which could have been done in the lockdown period and also after COVID-19 ending.
Finally I had the chance to meet also some faculty colleagues on line in order to introduce myself and share our skills.
When the lockdown started, I had only worked at my new workplace in the University of Milan for a couple of months. So at the very beginning it was quite hard to understand what to do and how to re-organize my smart-work at home. This was particularly important, but difficult also from a personal and emotional point of view, considering that Lombardy was hit harder than Italy's other regions.
“Luckily” I had some backlog and during these months I had the opportunity to catch up, by writing several manuscripts as well as by implementing and planning some of the projects that have been kept in storage for a long period in the near future. Moreover, I had my first course as Assistant Professor, and doing the course by Microsoft Teams instead of in a real room was a real challenge - quite stressful to be honest because of my usual “fear of failure”.
One of the “positive” points of this very tough time was that I could attend several meetings and seminars. For all these things technology was very useful and gave me the possibility to bridge the gap between me and my colleagues that the lockdown had imposed on us. Now it’s time for a new normality, despite with the belief that “nothing will be the same as before”
I work in one of the cities hit worst by COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. I clearly remember the day in which the lockdown in Codogno (the city where the first Italian COVID-19 patient had been diagnosed), was declared. I was having lunch with my boss, who is from Codogno. After lunch, I had my last meeting with a student before the lockdown, to discuss about her graduation thesis, and I clearly remember her face: she was scared. At the University the panic quickly started to spread.
In a very short time, my world has changed. I packed all my stuff and transferred my office at my "home safe home". However, a few days later I had to pack all my stuff again to move to another house with my son, since my husband works at the hospital, in the intensive care unit, therefore at high risk of being infected. Initially, I obviously did not really know how big this emergency would be and how long it would last, but I had the feeling this was only the “tip of the iceberg”.
However, I always tried to be positive, and I remember thinking: “Well, I am a mom and I am a scientist. I’ll do my best to be resilient, adapting myself to this new situation, and find the best way to keep my work going”. I changed all my plans for the following months, while always trying to remember that I had to find the positive things in this period, even if my routine was completely turned upside down. For instance, I had to interrupt several projects due to be carried out in the lab, but I immediately thought I would use this time to write papers and to finalize backlogs from my new home office.
During these months, supporting my students, doing online exams and trying to plan the activities with my colleagues from home has been hard. However, creativity has been the essential ingredient to find constantly new ways to keep my networks alive, to take care and foster relationships with my colleagues and to progress with all projects and activities. In the end, unexpectedly, it has also been "the time for taking time" for new ideas and projects.
In conclusion, this pandemic certainly left a mark in my life: it forced me to change my point of view and it has changed the way I used to work - but at the same time, it has also opened the door to new opportunities and new alternative ways of working. I have been forced to rethink my working priorities and to contemplate new ideas for nutrition science.
[Margherita Dall’ Asta]
I had to introduce profound changes in my work and private life routine. I was responsible for starting a communication project targeted at parents, regarding health nutrition for families with kids. The idea was to organize several events in the area of Milan, and contribute to science festivals in other italian regions.
Because the COVID19 pandemic, I decided with the institution where I work, to switch my communication plan and start a social media project.
I founded the instagram and Facebook profile of the "Buono al Cubo" project. This enables me to partially work from home, because I have a 2-year old child.