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07/2020: Effects of Covid-19 on Dr. FOREST

The Dr. FOREST project was launched in February this year but like many other projects throughout the world, the partners have had to reroute their activities. The lockdown restrictions have caused delays in planning and operations of many projects.  But how is the Dr. FOREST staff dealing with the delays? Have they found a way to work around the challenges? Are things turning back to normal?

Here are three of our Dr FOREST colleagues sharing their biggest challenges and frustrations the pandemic has caused them, including some silver linings to learn from. 

Dr Sandra Mueller from the Institute of Biology and Geobotany at University of Freiburg:  “Together with PhD candidate Taylor Shaw from the Conservation of Forest Biodiversity in Multiple-Use Landscapes of Central Europe (ConFoBi), I am responsible for assessing acoustic diversity in the different forest plots in the Dr. FOREST project. We will analyse how tree diversity and acoustic diversity are linked, and will provide audio material for the Team from Leipzig who will test the effect of a divers soundscape on human well-being. Taylor and myself further assist Dr Michael Scherer-Lorenzen from the Institute of Biology and Geobotany in overall all Dr. FOREST project coordination.

It was tough to organise the project start from home, while taking care of our four-year-old son. Luckily Taylor and Michael were less constrained by childcare. Instead Michael was kept very busy re-organizing university teaching. But looking back now, the resulting delays are only minor. And recordings can start more or less as planned this summer”.

Dr Daniela Haluza is a medical specialist in microbiology and hygiene, and habilitated assistant professor of Public Health at Medical University of Vienna and in charge of the public health aspects in Dr. FOREST: “We decided to use the summer months 2020 to pre-test the methods. We would have done this anyway, but we will not be able to travel around to the other project sites while doing so”.

Loïc Gillerot, is a PhD student at University of Ghent and KU Leuven and responsible for the microclimate study in Dr. FOREST: ”As a starting PhD student, it has been strange not to have been able to meet any of my colleagues yet. The lack of real-life social interactions is a pity, but I am lucky to be little impacted by the quarantining as of yet. Early stages of PhD project mostly involve reading and writing a lot, something easily done from the comfort of one’s home. Nonetheless, I am very impatient to go out in the field this summer to put all of this reading into practice!”.

Based on the original plan, which steps should you have already taken?

Dr Sandra Mueller: “The project related delays are of minor concern. But manuscripts from other projects, that are in the pipeline, should have been completed by now. So I am contributing to the decrease in women submitting academic articles under Covid-19 lockdown. Luckily, I have a partner with whom I share child care 50:50 and co-workers who were/are very supportive, patient and show solidarity. So I am optimistic that I will catch up again”. 

Loïc Gillerot: “My progress has been little hampered. First weeks and months of a PhD project are commonly devoted to getting acquainted with the topic through scientific literature. If there was no quarantine, there would be a slight chance that I started assembling and testing out microclimate sensors a bit earlier and more easily. The only thing I can do as a PhD student is to focus on reading as much as possible to be able to focus more of my time on fieldwork in the coming months”.

What has been most frustrating about the lockdown?

Dr Daniela Haluza: “I have found it rather frustrating around the insecurity of how long all this would take and whether there will be another Covid-19 wave”.

Dr Sandra Mueller: “Worrying was and still is most frustrating, not to know how long the lock-down would last and if we maybe have to go to lock-down measures again. While delays so far for this project are minor, they would be severe if next year would be hit by a second wave and second lock-down measures. It is specifically worrying for all PhD-students. If they can not collect their data in the field as needed, this might have lasting negative effects on their future carriers”.

Loïc Gillerot: “Probably the risk of delayed deliveries of sensors has been the most frustrating, but mostly not having been able to meet new colleagues and exchange thoughts and ideas in a more natural fashion”.

Are there any silver linings or lessons that you have learnt from this time for the next possible lockdown in relation to your work?

Dr Sandra Mueller: “I guess we all learned very quickly how to organise within a team via video-conferences. And even international online meetings/conferences/seminars with hundreds of participants quickly became a routine. That was an interesting experience. Still a new lock-down would be a very bad for our project. We need to be able to visit our sites and lab-experiments have to happen within the coming year”.

Dr Daniela Haluza: “Online meetings are a convenient alternative to in-person meetings. If traveling would not be possible, we will find other ways to share forest-derived materials”.

Loïc Gillerot: “Maybe the fact that I can entirely focus on the literature is the best thing about the lockdown. I am keeping track of a nice stack of articles to be read as soon as there is more quarantining time again”.

Well done for the quick adaptations and positive attitudes! Let´s hope for as few delays as possible in the future and smooth sailing for the remaining project.