July 20, 2022, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham
What if you caught Covid during an international conference?
Tien Thuy Quach, a PhD Candidate in School of Pharmacy, talks about her experience of catching COVID-19 at an international conference, and what she learnt about managing her mental health.
I was fortunately awarded a Travel Prize (£500) from the Researcher Academy, Travel Award (£500) from the United Kingdom Surface Analysis Forum (UKSAF), and CR Barber Trust Fund from the Institute of Physics (£100) to support my participation at the European Association on Applications of Surface and Interface Analysis Conference 2022 (ECASIA 22, 29.05-03.06.2022). My Programme Grant Next Generation Additive manufacturing (NextGen AM) helped to cover the remaining cost as it took place over one week in Limerick, Ireland. I had a chance to talk with a range of PhD students, academic and industrial staff from different countries like France, Belgium, etc in the registration – welcome reception and workshop session “Reviewer Training for Early Career Researchers on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to Prof. John F. Watts and Dr. Marie-Laure Abel, I could learn about the whole pathways of publication and how to become a potential reviewer in the future, which I really appreciated.
I also wanted to understand more about the Irish culture and people by exploring the city centre and visiting few landscapes. I was lucky to participate in the live festival “Africa Day 22” and to get to view the traditional galleries at the Hunt Museum Garden that day. (Quick tip: most of the buses only accept cash so it’s good if you exchange Pounds for Euros in advance!)
I was also able to visit the Glucksman Library on campus later and I loved their smart arrangement of diverse resources, particularly the shelves “Popular Reading, New Arrivals and my favourite “Study and Life Skills”. The most impressive thing for me in the library though was the Laptop Lending Service which makes it easy for students to borrow a laptop easily, along with using PCs on campus.
How I stayed involved in the conference despite self-isolating
Unpredictably, I got a positive Covid test at my first in-person international conference, which I never expected because I was fully vaccinated with 2 doses plus a Booster dose in 2021.
I noticed symptoms including severe sore throat and light fever on the Monday, so I asked another delegate to let the University Accommodation and Event Organiser know my situation. Following the Irish guidance, they gave me a Covid test kit and they advised me to do 7-days self-isolation & 3-days follow-up for my positive result. Along with drinking more water, eating soft food, and having sufficient sleep, Ibuprofen and Strepsil tablets were helpful for my recovery. I emailed the conference organisers to seek support and asked how I could still make a presentation in some form. Unfortunately, they couldn’t arrange for me to do a remote or recorded presentation, but they agreed for me have poster instead. Whilst I wouldn’t be able to be in attendance for this poster session, my work would be presented with my contact details to allow for further discussion after the conference. I didn’t have much time to prepare and submit the poster, but they helped me get it done in time. The Event Organiser also agreed refund partially for the portion of the catering that I wasn’t available, and the Accommodation staff (at Cappavilla Village) were kind not to charge for my extra night stays and assisted my Tesco home delivery food during my self-isolation. I also managed to change return flight tickets (after I tested negative) without paying any extra fees from checking the direct airplane website.
Reflecting on my mental health during the PhD journey
I know different people have different ways to handle things and move on. I’m the type who appreciates happiness and luck and I would like to support or motivate others to do good things. I don’t frequently mention my stress or difficulties because I’m afraid to become burdensome or bother other people too much. I choose to deal with things on my own, for example, I can try to control my feelings and continue the tasks that I should or need to complete. I choose to continue working hard or even harder than normal when dealing with stress or pain. That way, I won’t be bothered by millions of thoughts, thousands of memories, or hundreds of conflicts in my mind… I know it will not work effectively all the time and I still need to face the trauma alone at the end of the day. I’m not sure when or how I can be ready or comfortable to share with others – including my close people. It’s not because I don’t feel secure to share or I don’t trust them, it’s just because I need a certain time to face it myself before seeking and accepting external support which is my habit or part of my principle. I don’t want to let the bad moments go easily or share with anyone about my deep sorrow or scariness because I don’t want to ruin other people’s moods or bring more pressure on them.
However, I decided to force myself to be braver for a change (after few recent events) and at least to be more honest to myself about dealing with stress and/or pain. Therefore, I have written them down here, so hopefully, I don’t need to carry them along away on my shoulders anymore. I’m not sure my way is suitable or correct for everyone. However, I want to suggest that it’s good from time to time to rest a little bit and find a way to release your emotions in your own way.
I also noticed that I didn’t catch Covid when I was going through lots of external challenges like adjusting to different PhD stages with multiple unforeseen things happening, doing volunteers along with part-time jobs including night shifts during the Covid-19 pandemic, and other difficulties, but rather when I got run down from pushing myself too hard, not giving myself time to heal from mental wounds properly.
As you can see, I lost the opportunity to discuss my research work in-person, missed most of the talks and networking sessions including the Gala Dinner and Award Ceremony, and couldn’t participate in the excursion to explore more about Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. However I received a big lesson to be honest with how I feel and release the stress-pain in more appropriate ways, to have better balance between work and life, and to seek external supports during the difficult time.
“If you feel too tired or overwhelmed, it’s ok to be like that, and don’t be too hard on yourself!” – and I gradually learned to accept it.
I hope each person can give yourselves enough time and space for self-healing or regaining energy. For those who have been dealing with stress and/or pain, you’re not alone in the recovery from them!
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