Women in STEM: Mousumi Chatterjee

How COVID-19 has affected my workplace and career in Science?

By Mousumi Chatterjee, Daphne Jackson Trust Fellow, Brunel University, London

I know this pandemic has brought a lot of people into an ocean of distress, pain and uncertainty all over the world. I am no exception like many other individuals, COVID19 has brought lots of uncertainty to my life – more than I could have ever expected.

I’m worried about the health of my family members here in the UK and back in India as well as my job (and my husband’s job), my son’s education, and the mental wellbeing for all of my family.

I went through phases of emotional turmoil, confusion and depression while trying to stick to the initial lockdown phase, obeying all the rules and regulations at the same time. I could have been flown and fall to the darkness of consternation and melancholy but my Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship saved me and showed me the only beam of light throughout this gloomy hour and gave me the strength to carry on.

I consider myself one of the fortunate candidates who has the privilege of taking a long stride towards the research profession after a career break during the pandemic! When I look back at my journey of my Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship, a smile on my face always appears. I started applying with the initial stage, then I attended an interview at Brunel University. All the discussions with my Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship Advisor helped to shape my research proposal, along with my informal visits to Brunel University.

My final proposal submission was completed during mid-February and after this, there was a gap until the Award Assessment Panel interview in May 2020. Everything felt perfect and I was looking forward to May but in the meantime, COVID19 happened in the UK and all of our offices and schools were closed. We were isolated at home concerned about an uncertain future. It was a challenging time, but we as a family of three in a tiny apartment somehow carried on the new working from home and home schooling routine for the my son.

Soon, both my husband and I started feeling unwell and developed flu-like symptoms. As our symptoms were mild, we were advised to stay at home with complete isolation. Gradually we both recovered in 10-14 days and began fitting to this new standard of life. The initial months were difficult and I was slowly learning to follow the new normal but still somehow deep inside I was insecure and unable to accept reality and was finding it difficult to function normally. I was missing social gathering with friends and colleagues. Then came the email communication of the final Award Assessment Panel interview. I knew that this is the right call for me and it was. Everything that has happened since then has helped me a great deal to control my inner discomfort and my career path is now clear to me. Believe it or not, I fine all the Zoom and Teams meetings elating. Every week I look forward to the exciting workgroup meeting and then there are the Daphne Jackson Trust Training courses or virtual coffee meet ups where I can connect with other Daphne Jackson Trust Fellows and listen to their stories.

My proposal has an experimental part with algal toxicity test, which will need to be done in a lab set up. Other than that, with support from my research supervisor and other members of my research group at Brunel, I can carry on with my research from home, until the regulations are eased.

I’ve been a Daphne Jackson Trust Fellow for six months now. I’ve started to appreciate the constructive sides of our stay-at-home routine as it allows more flexibility to work and I can still help my son homeschooling at a proper poise. I’ve started a new hobby of painting during my free time and it has helped me to stay calm and focused. I still miss meeting up with my friends and attending events, although I have started a virtual community with friends. Like the rest of the world, I am looking forward to the day we can begin working and meeting up again especially with my research colleagues.