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Generation Scotland

Generation Scotland

Generation Scotland is a volunteer led study. It aims to create more effective treatments, based on gene knowledge for the medical, social and economic benefit of Scotland and its people.

What’s it like being a study lead during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

Hi, I’m David Porteous and I’m the principal investigator for Generation Scotland.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected us all in many different ways. I wanted to share with you how I am managing my day to day life during lockdown, in the hope that my experiences might help some of you too!


Prof. David Porteous sat at a meeting table with an arm resting on his chairGeneration Scotland was just an idea when I was working at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, but became a possibility when I moved to the University of Edinburgh in 1999 and a reality in 2003 when we got our first research grant to set it up. It has been my main research focus ever since and it will be my swansong, although, unlike the swan, I haven’t kept silent all my life!

Since lockdown, I’ve been working longer hours and more of them! In 2019, I cut back on all of my past research activity with the exception of Generation Scotland. I was partially retired, doing just two full days a week and an hour or two on others. But with lockdown, we turned all of our energies towards COVID-19. We wanted to find out how our volunteers were feeling and coping. It’s been back to full-time working for me, typically 60 hours a week. I have always worked ‘out-of-hours’ at home, so it has been easy to adapt. We are all now working full-time from home, connecting with partners across the UK and meeting up regularly on-line.

It’s been harder than ever to fully switch off, as there is so much going on. Priorities and demands change daily, if not by the hour. I am an early riser, so down-time is a bike ride or brisk walk in the evening, longer at the weekend. Later on, I like to catch up on pre-recorded TV or something distracting on Netflix with family. My family have been my inspiration, as always, and each in their different ways, are my primary inspiration.

Craigmillar castle, shaded in the backlight of the sun

It was lovely to visit so many sights, including Craigmiller Castle.

The day after the cautious easing of ‘lockdown’ in Scotland, the weather was glorious. Our team is split across three sites in Edinburgh, the Western General Hospital, George Square and the Royal Infirmary, Bioquarter, and I cycled past all three. From Inverleith, up to town and across the Meadows, on past Pollock Halls, through Holyrood Park, past Duddingston Loch, up to Craigmillar, on to Joppa and back home through Craigmillar Park and by the Castle. What a lovely city we live in and how lucky we are to have so many green spaces, cycle tracks and walkways. What also cheered me was that everyone really did seem to be sticking to the social distancing rules. It is so important that we do.

I also got in touch with old friends. I spoke with one school friend in particular just before the ‘lockdown.’ I got in touch with a couple of friends from early student days too. Thanks to Spotify, it’s had me going back to favourite bands from that era. You can’t beat early Santana for lifting the mood.

Everything has changed, for pretty much everyone. My best laid plans for retirement, our trip to Singapore to visit recently emigrated family, and many others are all on hold, but these are small things in the big scheme of things. So many are much less fortunate and will be finding ‘lockdown’ a real challenge and the future uncertain.

I have been privileged to be in medical research all my academic career. It is a much more creative process than most imagine. I love having an idea and seeing it through to completion, and really like the dynamics of team working, particularly when someone with more skills than me can take on one of those ideas and make it happen.

There have been so many other inspiring examples of small acts of kindness at all levels of society, alongside the heroics of our NHS staff and dedication of carers. I am looking for inspiring leadership to ensure we exit into a better, kinder, greener world.

People enjoying the sea at Portobello beach

We’re lucky to have so many beauty spots to visit in Edinburgh

(David Porteous)

(David Porteous)

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