How to be a researcher and a mum in times of Covid-19

Roni Wright is a junior researcher at the CRG. A mum of three, she has struggled with the situation brought about by the coronavirus crisis. She shares with us how she is managing to overcome it.

Roni Wright is a researcher at the CRG and mum of three.

Before this happened, I was just about managing to keep all the balls in the air: morning rush, lab, students, classes, after school activities, the home, etc. You learn and adapt and finally manage to do it.

But in one day it all came crashing down. And we had to evolve to a whole new way of life, working from home with children. Many of us in makeshift offices on the kitchen table.

In one day it all came crashing down, and we had to evolve to a whole new way of life, working from home with children.

Working in the kitchen, it is hard to get the time to focus on what I need to get done. The luxury of having 2 or 3 hours to focus on thinking and writing a paper is a luxury that just seems impossible. Being disturbed every 20 minutes; help with homework the children don’t understand, someone is hungry and wants a snack, the kids are bored, the kids are fighting… it never ends.

My husband’s schedule is not flexible; he has videoconferences all day long. So the childcare duties fall to me alone. With three children, by the time I organize the school work for one, then the next, then the next, we are back at square one.

I struggled at first, thinking “I need to write this paper”, which of course didn’t happen. But the problem was setting myself goals that were just too ambitious.  

We all just have to do the best we can during these times, and that is all you can do. Setting yourself unrealistic goals – “Finish results section” in one day – just leads to frustration and a feeling of inadequacy. Not only are you failing at your work, but also neglecting your children, who are also struggling emotionally. Double fail.

How to survive

Set yourself smaller goals, focus on small tasks: write this paragraph, describe this figure legend, respond to all my emails in the morning. These small goals help you to get a sense of achievement that you managed something today, instead of a feeling of hopelessness.

Setting yourself small goals helps you to get a sense of achievement that you managed something today

Give yourself a break, do not be so hard on yourself. Women especially are the worst self-critics, we are full of self-doubt at the best of times, thinking we are not good enough.  So what if the children didn’t finish all their assignments for the week for school and the house is a mess? You are doing the best you can. Talk to others, seek advice, have a laugh with those in the same situation. You are not alone.

Moving forward

I do worry about women in science. Before this happened, we were just beginning to make a change. Now I feel that if most female scientists are in the same situation as me, they will struggle to get the publications finished and sent. And their male colleagues may excel in publishing during this time, having less time in the lab and more time to focus on writing at home. This is a real worry.

I do worry about women in science. Before Covid19, we were just beginning to make a change.  Now I feel many female scientists with family might struggle to get publications finished and sent. 

But perhaps this situation can help us to focus more. Indeed, I was guilty before this of managing too many collaborations, projects and ideas. During this time, this is not possible, so it has forced me to focus on what is most important, something that I did try to do before but never quite managed.

So maybe, in some ways, these dark times could have a silver lining and make us more focused when we go back to the lab.

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