Together with the rest of Aarhus University, ScienceAtHome has been in lockdown and all staff have been working from home. Now that things are slowly getting back to normal here in Denmark, we want to reflect a little on what it has been like to be separated from colleagues, equipment, and offices. This blog post focuses especially on what it means to be working as a scientist at home. We have asked two of our colleagues about their experiences during this time.

Carrie Weidner is a postdoc at ScienceAtHome working mostly with experimental physics. Together with the rest of her team, she works in the basement of the physics building on a quantum gas microscope. For a little over a month, they were locked out of the lab due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It restricted her team from making any progress on the experiment. Fortunately, they were able to focus their energy on writing a manuscript for publication instead.

Carrie’s team has been able to gain limited access to the lab now. They have to book time beforehand as only 20 people are allowed in the building and only one person can enter the lab at a time.

“I remember the first time I was back in the lab, I had this stupid grin on my face the whole time because I remembered how much I enjoyed being down there.” - Carrie Weidner

Carrie is originally from the US and she has been worried about her friends and family who live there. She is thankful for the opportunity to easily video chat since she cannot know when it will be possible to see them again in person. With all this being said, other opportunities appeared when being forced to work at home. The nice spring weather started right as the lockdown began. Carrie was able to take breaks in the afternoon where she could enjoy a run or a walk outside. This will be missed when she goes back to work at the university full-time.

Arthur Hjorth is a Learning Scientist which means he studies what it is to “know” something and how knowledge is constructed and acquired. He designs technology-based learning activities for use inside and outside of classrooms and analyzes how people use these technologies. Currently, his work is focused on how to design technologies that support people while they think “with” computer algorithms, computer models, and machine learning.

“I love that I get to combine designing and building technologies with interacting with people and doing deep dives into data analysis.” - Arthur Hjorth

The lockdown has been tough on Arthur’s work since he normally enjoys collaborating with other people on data analysis and in the design of learning technologies. This is not the same when you cannot meet face to face. Additionally, since schools have been locked down as well, it has not been possible to collect data in classrooms which is where most of Arthur’s data comes from. He also had to postpone a classroom intervention that was scheduled for May.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of other ways of meeting up have been practiced. For instance, Arthur and the founder of ScienceAtHome, Jacob Sherson, taught an online evening class for ATU Midt (the Academy for Talented Youth) where the students got to play and reflect on the game Corona Minister. This meet-up was great because the ATU students had fun while they also produced some great questions and comments that are useful for optimizing the game and understanding how the lockdown affected their lives. But it was not easy to manage 150 participants in a Zoom meeting with 32 breakout rooms! Still, it was all worth it in the end.

ScienceAtHome will be able to return to work at Aarhus University this week. This allows us to reunite with needed equipment and missed colleagues. However, some of us have found new routines in working from home and might worry about going back to the office. Normality will probably not return completely this week, but it is a step forward that we are happy to see. During this time, we have gained useful knowledge on how to work remotely, meet up online, and enjoy flexible working hours.