As many staff begin to return to the office following a lengthy period of working from home,  we spoke to colleagues about their experiences of the past 18 months and thoughts for the future.  Here’s Marisa Muckian, a PhD student at the Usher Institute.

In March 2020, I was six short months into my three-year PhD programme. I had moved from Belfast to Edinburgh, and I was finally beginning to feel at home. Given my interest in infectious diseases, it is no surprise that I had been following news of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 closely – but it still took me by surprise to get a phone call from my supervisor, advising me that I should make arrangements to work from home and if possible, due to my lack of close family and friends in Scotland, to travel back to Belfast.

“It will only be a few weeks.” I told my mum cheerfully as I packed a suitcase, acting as if I was going on holiday – while deep down covering up my feelings of panic and confusion. I returned to my parent’s house and claimed back my old bedroom and began working from home. What was to be “a few weeks” became months, transitioning from Skype calls, to Zooms and then Microsoft Teams. Initially, the freedom that virtual meetings offered made working from home an exciting new experience.

Until reality kicked in. I was entering year 2 of my PhD. I had not been to an in-person conference, nor had I really forged a relationship with my fellow students. The online meetings began to lose their appeal. Working from home started becoming more and more isolating as I began trying new analyses for my project. Problems which could easily be solved with a question face to face, now required a 30-minute scheduled Teams meeting made ever the more difficult by my parents’ dreadful wi-fi connection. I began mourning the PhD life that I had imagined.

Things weren’t all bad –  my partner was offered a job in Edinburgh, and I jumped at the chance to return, wondering if being in the city, closer to the University would help me feel less isolated.

I was right, the move back was just what I needed. As restrictions eased, I began the process of reaching out to other PhD students I knew. I began to feel part of a community again. However, this was not without its issues. In a new flat, I found myself with no workspace or wi-fi and once my partner began his new job, the feelings of isolation crept back in. Due to these issues, I was able to return to my desk in December 2020, all the while following strict restrictions. I was sad to see the empty buildings and could not wait for more students and staff to return to campus.

This past week, I have met other students and even had face to face meetings. I have been more productive than I have been in a long time, thriving in an environment where I no longer feel lonely or isolated. While I am slightly anxious about being exposed to more people, I am reassured when I see others following the guidelines and the measures put in place to keep us safe.