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Life under Lockdown: A Christ Church Diary

Written by Oliver Karnbach, President of the GCR and D.Phil. candidate in Atomic and Laser Physics, posted on Friday, May 15, 2020

Our Week 3 blog provide a graduate student’s perspective on living and working at Christ Church during the pandemic.

Oliver Karnbach at the Rollright stonesCOVID-19 affects all our lives. The University and College have closed down and life now continues on a smaller scale. What used to be an active term has been converted into an unprecedented challenge for us all. Physical social gatherings have vanished and we spend more time with fewer people. While this may sound post-apocalyptic, "life finds a way." As GCR President, I was faced with numerous new concerns raised by my mostly international fellow graduate students, most of which have by now been (or are being) addressed. This post is an attempt to share my personal experience of the end of Michaelmas Term and the beginning of Trinity Term under lockdown.

Before lockdown, my daily work was based in an office and involved frequent travel to conferences, experiments at large-scale Physics facilities such as particle accelerators, and so on. The bulk of my time involved working at a desk and on computing clusters, which luckily is largely unaffected by the pandemic. Every now and then there is some down time on these servers, while the servicing of the physical components can be slowed down due to social distancing. However, most physical meetings have been transformed into virtual ones, e.g. via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Lectures and seminars related to the accelerators I am usually working on are held via WebEx.

The view between Elsfield and Beckley after a hill climb.Some of these changes have proven to be time-savers. Personally, I am sure that even after the lockdown ends, many things will have been permanently transformed. Meetings are well attended and collaborators can easily join without any extra travel. However, the networking and social aspects simply can't be replaced by a computer screen.

While holding in-person meetings are tricky, we have come up with numerous ways to stay in touch. One of my research groups holds a weekly quiz, friends have organised virtual birthday cake sessions, and I have never spoken with as many family and old friends on the phone as I have in the past few weeks! As GCR President, I have set up a College-wide exercise challenge via the Strava app, where the JCR, GCR, SCR and College Staff are competing during the month of May by recording their cumulative minutes of exercise. Even before that initiative, I spent a large part of my free time cycling through Oxfordshire. The photographs you see here were taken after a longer journey to the Rollright Stones, and after a climb between Elsfield and Beckley. They are prime examples of how beautiful this region of England can be, even in such strange times. Cycling is also is an acceptable alternative to rowing machines, but at the end of the day, I do miss a good session of ergs with banging music and a breeze coming in through the open windows of the Boathouse.

(Photos © Oliver Karnbach) Click small images to view larger versions