"It is actually quite nice to take some time off"

We have probably all worked from home once at some point, voluntarily or out of necessity. But how do you divide your day and sort your work or study load now that we collectively depend on our home for a longer period of time? How do you stay focused, how do you keep your team together, what are the tips, tricks and pitfalls? Cursor calls a ‘fellow sufferer’ every day. Today: Brigitte Lamers, PhD student at the department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry.

photo Privécollectie Brigitte Lamers

Writing. For most PhD students not exactly their favorite part of the PhD program, but under the given working-from-home conditions, you’d better get the job mostly done already. In any case, researcher Brigitte Lamers who just started the fourth year of her PhD, doesn’t have much choice now that ‘her’ beloved labs in Helix are closed.

Lamers is working in the group of professor Bert Meijer, with whom she last physically met on March 23rd. The campus had already slowly emptied the two weeks before, she says: “It felt a bit ominous; almost as if the world was perishing.” The groups of Meijer and his colleague René Janssen bravely continued their work on the condition of ‘not having a cold’ or feeling sick in another way. “Working at home is simply difficult, especially if you do a lot of experiments and other practical work. Bert was also very optimistic in the beginning: "This will pass, we are not going to close.”

But on the 23rd it was really ‘over and out’. The last things could be picked up on campus "and everyone had a meeting with Bert to discuss what we could do in the coming weeks." Above all, the atmosphere was relaxed and resigned, Lamers says: “But of course it was a bummer. Sorry that you cannot keep working like you used to.”

Read on below the photo.

Turned the page

Now that it is clear that working from home will last a little longer than until April 6, the resignation even increases, the researcher notes. "On one of my last days on campus, I said,"I really don't know what to do at home for three weeks." I was also working at the lab a lot then. But my co-supervisor said: "You can do so much already, you can actually write almost your entire thesis." Not the most fun part, but you have to anyway. I have now turned the page. It is also very nice to write at home, without people around you that distract you; it would take me twice as long at the university, I think.”

Nevertheless, it took some time to get used to being at home, says Lamers on the phone from her studio in the heart of Eindhoven. “As a PhD student, I am used to often working more than eight hours a day. At home that doesn't feel okay. I have a small studio of forty square meters and I don't have a desk here. So I sit behind the laptop at the dining table, on an ordinary chair. Ergonomically not really optimal. At a certain point I start to feel my shoulders, so I regularly go for a walk.”

In any case, she had a somewhat false start working from home after being sick all week last week, “so I only really started this week. Maybe I will pick up a separate keyboard from my parents after all.”

Furthermore, somewhat to her own surprise, she is more able to ‘let go’ than she expected. “I was usually at the office for eight hours at the university. Now I sleep a little longer, I have a quiet breakfast first and only start working around 9:00 or 9:30.” However, she must ensure that she does not forget to take a break: “At the university, a colleague always comes to ask if you are going to have lunch. Now, around 13:00, I often realize that I still have to eat. After lunch I always have some trouble to start again, I miss the activity of others around me. Now that I am at home, I have really come to appreciate the small daily chats with colleagues. Here I am alone all day.”

Read on below the photo.

Get it off your chest

That casual lab and office talk now takes place via Skype or Teams, "our group regularly meets online. Everyone talks about how things are, what he or she encounters. It’s just nice to get it off your chest.”

Lamers expects - or hopes - that she can resume her last project in the lab in May, to finish her PhD in April 2021. For her research, she works on well-defined polymers that she combines with supramolecular interactions. A whole new field of research, Lamers says, in which she explores the possibilities and combinations of polymers and supramolecular compounds. "We are now also trying to work towards applications, for example in the form of reusable plastics or opto-electronics."

But for now it is mainly: writing, writing, writing. Video calling with friends ("very nice, even if it’s only fifteen minutes"), a visit to the supermarket, visiting her parents every now and then, and trying to keep fit on the mountain bike. "But I'm bad at doing sports alone, so I don't know how long I can keep that up." Perhaps playing soccer with her team is the thing she misses most now, "but also being able to spontaneously say to someone:" Shall we go for a drink or a bite to eat?"

She is not concerned by the corona crisis, except for her parents and grandmother, perhaps, “they are in the risk group. But otherwise I can handle it quite well. This is just the situation we have and we live accordingly.” She confesses: “I had my weekends always fully booked, but it is actually nice to take a break. Now two months of our social life are just cut out of the year.” Laughing: “I hope we won't be cramming it all together in the other months, and wanting to catch up. In any case, I intend not to participate - although I don't know how long I will be able to stick to that aim.”

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