Thursday, 14 May 2020

Research life during Singapore's COVID-19 ‘circuit breaker’ (Lester Jones)

The view from Lester's desk 
RED Alert is running a series of posts where we hear from La Trobe graduate researchers who are (for lots of reasons) outside of Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next up, I invited Lester Jones, who is undertaking a PhD at the Judith Lumley Centre to share his thoughts on working and finishing off his PhD from Singapore.

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I am working in Singapore while completing my PhD studies part-time. This tiny island state – 50km by 27km - was initially seen as the exemplar of how to manage the threat of COVID-19. It did great. From early on we were required to declare our good health two times a day, accompanied by body temperature readings. Temperature checks were extended to other businesses including restaurants and hair salons but we were more or less unrestricted in our activities.

I was stopped one day, after a short but hot walk in the equatorial sun, at the National University of Singapore. I ended up in the ‘hot zone’ – the hot zone being the cordoned off area for those with suspect temperature readings. A place for feeling judged I found out! The gatekeepers were very polite and suggested I take a seat and they would reassess in a few minutes but I was not going to be touching or sitting on anything in the hot-zone! The few minutes was all it took to cool my temperature and I was on my way.




Things seemed to be going well with enforced measures but recent increases in infection, mainly in the dormitory-housed foreign worker population, has demanded tougher restrictions – a lockdown or as the government describes it a ‘circuit breaker’. So me, my wife who is also an academic, and two teenagers have had to find ways to continue with our work and school in our three bedroom apartment. The girls have been schooling online – although the oldest one is now finished, her secondary schooling complete without final exams. She is now navigating the uncertainty of what is next for her – and more than the usual uncertainty. The younger one is missing the social aspects of school – understandable at 15! Apart from that we know we are really lucky to have such minimal impact on our lives.

Working from home does demand a routine though and I try to get out for a run or walk each day – which we are permitted to do, but alone. In the tropical climate, this is best done just before the sun comes up and again I am lucky to be able to access some green surrounds and waterways. There are always some unusual flowers to discover (for example, spider lilies) and I have encountered many birds, squirrels, lizards and even a family of otters. I am definitely exercising more frequently in the circuit breaker time.

Some spider lilies that Lester has spotted

In some ways my time on my PhD tasks has been enhanced. Previously my strategy had been to work in blocks of days, including time back in Melbourne. However, without the travel to and from work, I have created more time and can dip in and out of PhD tasks more readily. It helps to have a nice place to sit – I have a view over treetops and of everchanging sky, which is spectacular when a storm rolls across the island! Also I have joined the RED Accelerated Completion Program which has nicely coincided with my time in lockdown and provides an extra motivation to keep things moving along.

We are due to end this circuit breaker on 1st June and already I can see the return to campus-based working will take some getting used to. To start there is the early morning travel, the search for good coffee and attention to what you are going to wear. The ironing board which is normally in place for daily shirt ironing is completely folded away! In the meantime, I will enjoy the morning discoveries and keep on nudging my write up of my thesis towards its (hopefully) August completion!

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Lester Jones is a graduate researcher in the Judith Lumley Centre, School of Nursing and Midwifery at La Trobe and a Senior Lecturer at the Singapore Institute of Technology. See here for further information about Lester's research publications.

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