Research retrospective: Lessons learned from a year in lockdown

Research retrospective: Lessons learned from a year in lockdown Set against the most challenging year in recent memory, BCU researchers have still managed to achieve so much, both in response to the pandemic and across their fields of expertise.

We spoke to some BCU academics to find out what it was like to teach, Zoom and discover their way through the last year.

New challenges

We’ve all had to rise to new challenges during the pandemic, whether it’s finding new ways to connect with friends, looking after our mental health in isolation, or acclimatising to working from home.

Researchers have found that some of the popular work around such as video conferencing and other home-working methods aren’t suitable to continue their ongoing projects.

Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Reader in Interdisciplinary Practice and Research with Families, experienced this problem first-hand:

‘I have one research project that relies on face to face conversations about photographs that contain sensitive images. This project has had to be put on hold as discussing very sensitive images online just won't work.’ 

Other researchers have found that working from home made it harder to balance work with home life. Post Doctorate Research Fellow, Anastasia Nikologianni, said setting an end time for your workday is extremely important.

‘Working from home needs a 'cut off point' or a curfew, as there are days that the demand is high and you constantly feel the pressure to complete tasks. A change of scenery is sometimes necessary in order to decompress.’

While Professor Matt O’Leary, Director of the CSPACE research centre, said juggling work while home schooling was a constant struggle:

‘There were times when it seemed to go fairly smoothly but other times when it was chaotic. Looking back, I think we just muddled our way through as best as we could.’

What we have learned from lockdown

Though lockdown has caused its fair share of challenges, researchers consistently pointed out that the forced adoption of online tools has opened up several new opportunities.

Dr Blackburn mentioned that a lot of research is very possible to conduct in lockdown, but it requires a more creative approach.

‘For example, all of our research students have adapted their data collection methods in order to comply with lockdown measures.

‘They have also found new ways of engaging with participants, such as producing videos to explain their research or designing more engaging surveys to reach a wider audience than interviews could have.’

Other researchers said that lockdown was a reminder to be dynamic and adaptive in their approach to work.

Lessons for the future

According to a Slack study, 72 percent of people want to move away from the traditional office-based way of working and move to a hybrid remote-office model after lockdown has ended. Anastasia agrees that this level of flexibility would be a welcome change:

‘I think academia can be one of the first sectors to embrace flexible working - we have proven it is entirely possible. There are also several environmental benefits as transport emissions are reduced.’

Matt also thinks that the option of working from home could save time, but recognises the need for a hybrid future to build networking opportunities and a sense of community:

‘A lot of unnecessary travel time could certainly be saved and made better use of by continuing to use virtual platforms instead of face-to-face, especially for meetings, doctoral supervisions etc. I don’t think the same applies to online conferences as I think the networking element, which is one of the key benefits, doesn’t lend itself to virtual spaces in the same way at all.’

As working from home can possibly lead to burnout, zoom fatigue and other negatives, Anastasia said the focus should be on flexibility:

‘Personal contact cannot be replaced, and it is always important, but flexibility is key.’

Find out more about BCU’s research by viewing our research centres or take a look at key projects in Research Highlights.