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Through the Perspex-Screen

Written by Linnea Drexhage, posted on Thursday, January 21, 2021

Linnea Drexhage, Christ Church's GCR Treasurer and a Wellcome Trust DPhil student, describes working in a lab during the pandemic.

Linnea Drexhage in the labThe Sir William Dunn School of Pathology is one of the few institutes in Oxford that is still open for all students, researchers and postdocs who need to continue their research during this new lockdown. Earlier last year, all labs within the institute that were not working on SARS-CoV-2 had to close. Since then, the institute’s pandemic committee has used the experience they have gained to raise COVID safety guidelines to such a high standard that they could create a lab environment that made it safe to work even during another lockdown. These measures include lots of office work being carried out at home, lab work run in shifts, wearing masks whenever on the premises, and lots of portable Perspex screens. DPhil students are only permitted to come in for benchwork experiments, whereas every other part of the job—seminars, meetings, writing, as well as data analysis—is carried out at home and online.

Dunn School buildingAs a second year DPhil student, I was lucky enough to experience the Dunn School before the pandemic began and I had the pleasure to get to know it as a vibrant place full of friendly faces and mutual support. Even after almost a year of COVID, it still feels eerie to see the usually buzzy cafeteria deserted and the hallways empty. However, the people at the Dunn School, like those at Christ Church, have tried to combat physical social distancing by introducing new kinds of digital social interactions. For example, I’ve participated in Speed Meetings and Dunn Drinks and was able to see most of my colleagues that way.

In this new pandemic world, at the end of the day there are only two questions left: Do these safety precautions constrain my day-to-day work routine? Yes. But does being able to continue one’s research by far outweigh these adaptions? Absolutely.

Linnea Drexhage working in a labOverall, I appreciate the possibility of continuing my work so much that I’d be happy to come in in a hazmat suit in order to continue my DPhil. I am sure everyone else at the Dunn School has just as much appreciation as I do for how well the difficult circumstances are being managed. So for now, where ‘Through the Perspex-Screen’ is a current immunologist’s version of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass’, we will keep going and hope we will continue to make just as many adventurous discoveries.