Working from home: Week 9

For the past nine weeks I have been working from home – something I never thought would happen during my PhD. I have been quite busy since the last blog post and this is definitely the longest blog post so far.

Working Remotely

There are definite perks of working from home. I am enjoying being able to wear comfy clothes all day, not that I ever put much effort into my outfits anyway. And it is nice to be able to wake up ten minutes before I intend on starting the day. The mornings are more relaxed as I can have breakfast while checking my to-do list and emails. I have spent some sunny mornings working outside as well, which is not as productive as working at a normal desk, unfortunately, but is a nice change of scenery.

Outdoor desk for sunny mornings

In addition to this, I was a teaching assistant for a module this semester and I was scheduled to teach eight tutorials for this. I had only delivered three tutorials by the time that UL closed, so I had to record the remaining five at home. This actually took less time than it would have to deliver these in person. Since I usually pause to give student a chance to take down solutions in class the tutorials last for 50 mins on average. Recording tutorials at home took less time as I could talk through without pausing. Students could then rewind to parts that they were struggling to grasp. In addition to this, I only had to record my tutorial once instead of delivering the 50-minute tutorial five times a week.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definite drawbacks to this situation as well. It is difficult to stay as focused as I would be in my usual office space. I have found it difficult to be at my desk by 9 and I am taking more tea/coffee breaks than I would at work, mainly because it is so convenient. I have been meeting most of my goals during the lockdown, however all too often I feel that I have not been productive enough, and find myself working a few hours over the weekend to make up time. This is something I am trying to avoid, though. I really have got used to my diary and this does help me to keep focused and complete the key tasks each week. Working at home while my partner and other housemates are in the house was always going to be less productive than a quiet office space. I’m sure this is something everyone has to deal with, not to mention sharing laptops and desk space.

PhD progress

There has been a lot of different areas of progress for the PhD in the last two months. Firstly, in April the IRC, who are funding my research, approved my first year progress report so I am now officially in the second year of my PhD.

Possibly as exciting, the first paper that I have written has been accepted to a major 3D printing journal, with minor changes. I will do a blog about this paper when it is finally published.

Last month I also submitted an abstract to a conference. This conference is due to take place in July, but I cannot see this actually going ahead. I am expecting this to be postponed. I likely will attend the conference whether I am chosen to speak at it or not.

Also last month, my research group (Design factors) held update presentations for all the PhD students. I presented my work and received good feedback. This presentation took place during 65 Roses week and I used my last 30 seconds to promote this event. Many researchers actually did donate to the cause.

Taught modules

This semester I took two modules; ‘Writing Science and Engineering’ and ‘Immunology and Microbiology’. I was due to take exams in both subjects during May. Obviously, these exams could not go ahead as scheduled. Instead, both lecturers decided to give assignments and quizzes to make up the marks. I am more used to sitting exams rather than end of term assignments but I actually preferred doing assignments. There was more time to answer the questions, meaning more time to think, less stress and less cramming. I do feel that assignments are more practical than sitting exams. It really tests how a student would solve a problem in real life, rather than learning off pieces to regurgitate in an exam.

COVID-19

One thing I did not expect at the beginning of lockdown was that I would be returning to the campus before the lockdown had been lifted.

Mid-April I was asked if I would help some of my colleagues with 3D printing, cleaning and assembling parts for the Rapid Innovation Unit (RIU). I was given permission to access the campus by the Dean of Science & Engineering and the President of UL. RIU was set up this year to create solutions for problems in the local hospital, University Hospital Limerick. The first month since RIU was set up was mainly focused on developing solutions for the COVID-19 crisis such as PPE and adapters, as outline in this video. The video currently has almost 40k views, which is impressive since RIU was first set up in March. You can follow RIU on twitter under the handle @RIU_UL for updates.

Skype a scientist

At the beginning of lockdown I thought I could be quite bored without lab work and signed up for ‘Skype-A-Scientist’. This is a website that pairs teachers and their class with scientists and they can have a chat about science. In the first month I was matched with 12 teachers, which I was a little overwhelmed by. I had organised two calls, with classes in North Dakota and Virginia. Neither call went to plan. During the first call my presentation froze and we just had a discussion about 3D printing. I was completely unable to connect to the second call and after 30 mins we decided to leave it. I recorded the presentation instead and emailed it to the class.

I blame my laptop for these issues, but I don’t think I will sign up for any more skype calls. I had contact with some of the other teachers that I had been matched with but I don’t think teachers want to do skype calls until the classrooms are back to normal.

Overall, I have has a busy few weeks since the campus closed. I am missing my colleagues, lab space and frustrated I cannot continue with important testing, but the closure is completely necessary to keep everyone safe. I had been uploading blog posts monthly, but I feel that uploading once every two months from now on might make for more interesting posts.

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