July 22, 2020, by Rob Ounsworth

Back to my lab: an overwhelming sense of camaraderie

Dr Katie Reynolds, a postdoctoral Research Associate, reflects on the journey back to her lab as the Chemistry Building becomes one of the first to reopen on University Park

I’ll never forget the start of the lockdown… but I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’ve been a postdoc in the School of Chemistry, ever since I submitted my PhD thesis at the end of 2019. I work on a multidisciplinary research project involving the University of Strathclyde and the pharmaceutical company GSK as well as our own University. The project aims to make active pharmaceutical ingredients more sustainably. My own part focuses on spectroscopy and electrochemistry for optimising chemical reactions.

My PhD viva was due to take place
the day after the official closure!

The reason why I remember the week the University closed so well is not because we all had to stop lab work and adjust to working from home. It is because my PhD viva was due to take place that very week, the day after the official closure!  Thankfully, I could still go ahead with my viva but it was a really odd experience defending my work remotely isolated in a room by myself on a video call with my two examiners who were also in separate locations. So, just one day after the closure I found myself having to adapt to a new way of life.

Katie Reynolds at work in her lab in the School of Chemistry

I was fortunate to be able to carry out some aspects of my research from home. It took a few weeks to adjust but then it started to feel like almost normal. I spent most of my time exploring new ideas and planning what I would do once the laboratories reopened. When I received the email about the reopening, I felt a rush of emotions, mainly excitement but also some nervousness as I had no idea what to expect on getting back.

Read about Dame Jessica Corner’s visit to Chemistry

On my first day, I noticed all of the changes that had been put in place to protect us, including one-way systems, ‘knock and call’ protocols for some rooms and antibacterial hand gel stations dotted around the buildings. My one standout-memory is the pleasure of interacting with and seeing colleagues, technicians, and staff members around the school, with appropriate social distancing of course.

Together we have created COVID-safe working practices
for everyone in our research team

There was an overwhelming sense of camaraderie; everyone was working together to help define the “new-normal”.  During weeks 1 and 2, we re-organised labs to optimise the new social distancing protocols. Of course, there have been a few hiccups along the way, but these have been overcome and together we have created COVID-safe working practices for everyone in our research team.

Social distancing signs on the floor of a lab

The whole experience has highlighted how quickly we can adapt to a new working environment. Of course we have to accept that things won’t go back to “how they used to be” overnight.  It has been a huge team effort and I really want thank our technical staff who have worked tirelessly to get operations in our school up and running, as well as many other people in the wider university who have helped during these past two weeks.  I feel incredibly lucky to be back in the lab and getting back to my research work. I wish all of you a safe return and ongoing success with your research.

This is the first in a short series of blogs from researchers and technicians who among the initial phase of colleagues returning to our UK campuses.

Please note: all staff must await notification from their line manager before returning to campus, so this process can be managed safely

Find out more about the University’s recovery planning


Posted in research