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Having a Child & Running a Research Group in the Times of Coronavirus

Given the circumstances, an article that is entirely off-topic, but at the same time entirely on-topic

Where we are now

The days and weeks (and probably the next many months) are turbulent, to say the least. Given my newfound love of Twitter that started half a year or so ago I followed developments in Wuhan extensively from January onward, which included many sources that have not been accessible anymore since. (I will leave out a discussion of social media, and censorship in social media, for the time being.)

It has become obvious for a while that the current situation will change life for us, at least for many months to come.

We are in this together

My partner and I are expecting a child towards the end of May (a boy), and I am leading a research group at University, as well as in a pharmaceutical company.

This means that I cannot only consider how to behave for myself in the current moment – and hide at home, with sufficient food (and toilet paper) until the whole thing blows over. I need to make sure to go through it – consciously, and with others.

So how do you keep going, in a moment of crisis?

When I was young

‘When I was young’ I thought life was about ‘me’. I was worried about getting into a degree programme, publishing a paper, having a family ‘according to socially accepted standards’ (which means having the average 2.1 children, married, found my job, whatever). I frequently had the picture in my head of coming home from work, with my briefcase, when the sun was shining, I still remember. I was striving to find this ideal state.

Then life started

But then life got in the way. My previous relationship, where my daughter Hanna was born, did not work out. This was in no small part due to me (in hindsight I have to say that I didn’t learn what I should have learned many years before); and this triggered a difficult time in my life, starting around 2012 or 2013. Many months were pretty dark for me – I continued my daily life, but did not feel well at all. After a while I started therapy. After a while I started doing sports (mostly running – still doing this, preferably in the mountains); after a while I started meditation. Etc. etc. One thing led to another.

Death meditation etc.

The thing that probably changed me most was meditation and reading Buddhist books (and on the other hand simply being open to this – it really helps if you are lying on the ground already). What had most profound impact on me was ‘accidentally’ registering for a 10 day silent retreat (well, and that’s what you do for 10 days – 14 hours a day of meditation, 5 hours of sleep, and some thin broth in between) – and doing meditation on death by my own a few times. (NB: If you read only one book in your life, make it ‘Not Always So‘ , by Shunryu Suzuki.)

It became apparent to me that fear of death is the same as fear of life. I have realized that I have been afraid of life, all of my life. Accepting my own death (to the extent I can do this currently) allows me to let go of my ideas of ‘how life should be’ – which, however, isn’t life anyway.

Having ideas about life is the opposite of living your life – it means being afraid of life, instead of living it.

We cannot change the facts. But we can change how we deal with them

We cannot change what happens right now in the outside world (beyond contributing our fair share by limiting contact and the like). But we can change how we cope with the current situation ourselves.

What does this mean?

For my family this means to accept what is, and what comes, and to be supportive in the situation, as it is and will be.

For my research group, this means to accept what is, and what comes, and to be supportive in the situation, as it is and will be.

Our life continues (until it ends), and it is an endless string of moments. You breathe every breath only once. You cannot saddle the horse that departed, or the one that didn’t arrive yet.

In practical terms this quite possibly means giving birth at home, as generations have done before. For my research group this means to meet remotely, and to continue working towards our individual, and also our common goals.

The value of what we do does not depend on external circumstances. Rather, it is intrinsic to what we do, it has all its value in the moment, already.

How we can use the current times – to re-evaluate our beliefs, our priorities

Part of government thinking of not closing pubs and restaurants was fear that domestic violence would increase, since families spend more (too much) time together. A family lawyer also pointed out, though, that we can use this time to re-evaluate what matters to us, in moments of crisis.

This is true on the scale of an individual, as well as throughout society.

What matters in my own life? How do I show others that I care about them, what has true value for me?

Do we want a society that is tolerant, or do we want to be divisive? Do we want to pit one against the other, or support each other?

So we can use the current time to re-evaluate what matters in our lives. Old habits die hard – but the current situation may provide sufficient incentive to do so.


2 thoughts on “Having a Child & Running a Research Group in the Times of Coronavirus”

  1. Pingback: Cambridge Cheminformatics Newsletter – 22 February 2020 – DrugDiscovery.NET – AI in Drug Discovery

  2. Thank you for this post, it really resonated with me and my present situation as an academic in quarantine and introspectively overcoming the fear of life. Very best wishes.

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