‘Thriving’ during the lockdown: "I was kind of made for this"

Working from home during the corona crisis is slowly becoming our ‘new normal’. We learn to deal with the changed framework and our pitfalls in this situation, find our way in being at home and miss the campus and each other in the meantime like never before. Cursor frequently calls a fellow remote worker to find out what’s up. Today: Hilde Weerts, artificial intelligence engineer at Mathematics & Computer Science.

by
photo Bart van Overbeeke

Mid-March, just when the corona virus forced the TU/e to close its doors, she started her new job as an artificial intelligence engineer at M&CS. A relatively new - and partly to be filled in - position, Hilde says, with a mix of applied research, education and engineering. Fortunately, after a bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering and a master's degree in Computer Science, the university and the campus are already familiar to her, and she had already met her direct manager - professor Mykola Pechenizkiy - before as he was the supervisor of her master's thesis. "But I don't know what my office looks like," Hilde responds laughing.

As a remote worker, she had already built up a small lead, she says. Not only because she had a cold in March and decided to stay at home as a precaution; the two months before she had also spent at home. “I completed my master in May last year and then I worked for a project in Venlo for a few months. But I hated to travel every day.”

Fortunately, I am quite an independent person

Hilde Weerts
Artificial intelligence engineer

So she has been at home for a while - "I was actually just about to start doing things outside again" - when Prime Minister Rutte announced the well-known intelligent lockdown. Above all, she had to start her new job at TU/e on her own. "Fortunately, I am quite an independent person and somewhat free to fill in my hours."

Moreover, Hilde explains, as a former teaching assistant she was already well acquainted with the course Responsible Data Science (formerly Web Analytics), which she was mainly involved with initially. “That allowed me to switch quickly. In the meantime, the course has changed considerably and, moreover, everything now suddenly had to be made available online. However, professors and teachers were so busy with all kinds of other things that had to be arranged quickly; so much was coming at them.”

The first days, in which Hilde put together an advanced homework assignment as an alternative to the exam, were therefore ‘quite intense’, she says. In the meantime it seems to have calmed down a bit, at least for herself, “I don't speak to too many other people. Through Teams I occasionally send a message to someone: "Hey hey, I'm Hilde, how are you?" But getting to know each other is difficult now.”

Read on below the photo.

A bit surreal

‘A bit surreal’ is what she’d like to call the first weeks of the corona crisis, in which she says she was ‘super strict’ in terms of staying at home and social distancing. "I am someone who follows the rules quite well." Laughing: "But you shouldn't put that in there."

She made an exception, together with her boyfriend with whom she shares an apartment, for two friends who live above them in the same complex in Eindhoven. “The four of us decided to quarantine together, a bit like a household. At least then you are not locked up in your own house all the time, but you have a limited group.”

I got tired of all the people who don't understand it, but have an opinion about it

Hilde Weerts
Artificial intelligence engineer

Meanwhile, people are slowly becoming less strict, Hilde notices, including herself: "During the weekend I will do something with someone else, but still within a limited group that I think is actually at little risk." For example, she is a lot more careful towards her parents, especially her father who is in the risk group.

She says she is not aware of being worried, but unconsciously she might be. "I need a lot more sleep than I usually do, and I also notice that my skin shows signs of stress." She follows the corona developments a bit less closely than in the beginning, “at one point I just muted 'corona' on Twitter, for example. I got tired of all the people who don't understand it, but have an opinion about it. But I watch the news every day.”

Singing along with the coffee machine

In addition, Hilde says she is content with being at home a lot and she calls it ‘utter luxury’ that she can even work from home at all, just like her boyfriend. “He's a freelancer and had just started a project at the end of February, which luckily continues. We work together at a large kitchen table, where our equipment is set up all week.” In the meantime, the two sing along in almost perfect harmony with their much too noisy coffee machine ("I had already made a kind of coffee dance before") and settle down on their small balcony with a cup of coffee as soon as the sun shines.

On Friday afternoon at six o'clock everything is switched off and moved from the table: “Then we really enjoy our weekend.” Fortunately, she and her boyfriend can get along well, Hilde says. She laughs: “I recently read that if at some point you start to become annoyed by the other person, then you have to blame a fictional colleague for things. That works pretty well.”

Read on below the photo.

She continues, “Do you know what you should try? Shaking the hand of someone who lives in your house. Just for fun. That feels so strange now.” Whether handshaking will ever become a normal social ritual again? "I do not know; I'm not such a great hand shaker anyway. I do love to cuddle, but the question is whether and when we will do that again. In any case, it is interesting to see how this entire crisis also portrays the "claiming back of your personal space." If you consider how we used to be crammed together in public life, on the train or plane or at a festival - I'm curious how that will go. But I actually think that we can all pick up on that pretty soon.”

Lost five kilos

For now, she mainly misses eating out and dreams of that one restaurant in the city, which is high on her to-do list. She said she was never a fanatical sports person, “but when the gyms closed, my boyfriend brought all sorts of strength training equipment into the house and I have been exercising more than ever before. I have already lost five kilos since January.”

But do you have to get used to the so-called ‘new normal’? Not Hilde, though: “The new normal is my old normal. I may be very outgoing in my talking and acting, but at the same time I am also very introverted. I mainly charge with ‘being in myself’."

Not that she doesn't like social activities, Hilde emphasizes, “but honestly: when it was said that this and that would open again, it also made me a bit anxious. From the feeling that you suddenly have to participate in society again, that your circle is suddenly increased tenfold. Tonight I am going to Krav Maga training for the first time again, in adapted form, without physical contact with others. I am looking forward to it, but I have to cross a threshold. I find that kind of thrilling, even if everyone does everything according to the rules. Aren't we going too fast?”

As someone recently said according to Hilde: “Actually I am thriving a bit during the lockdown. I was kind of made for this, I believe. My boyfriend loves kite surfing and when he goes out, I often think: "nice, finally the house to myself."

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