How COVID-19 has affected us.

A Blog chat with Dr Susan Murphy, Principal Investigator, GATE Project, Trinity College, Dublin.

Where you would have been in April?

Before COVID-19 struck, April 2020 was shaping up to be a very exciting month. It is the final teaching month of the semester at Trinity College and I have a series of activities planned with my students. Firstly, we had hoped to host an event with 6 international NGO partners to showcase the research projects we had completed on their behalf during the semester. Although the class came together to hold a ‘Zoominar’, and presented their work to one another, we decided to delay the event with our NGO partners until the next academic year – so we can enjoy the presentations together.

My first year and second year master students were all preparing for their international fieldwork and placements – sadly, all of these have had to be postponed or cancelled. Thus, the month quickly shifted into on-line classes via zoom, and working individually with each student to reshape projects and plans to ensure that they could complete their modules from the safety of their desks.

I was also planning to kick the month off with two major events here at Trinity College. I was deeply honoured to be selected to host the 2020 UNDP/European Commission Kapuscinski DevelopmentLecture with Dr Kendah Yumkella, entitledThe Urgency of The Energy Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa In The Context of Worsening Climate Change (on 1st April).

Dr Yumkella is an internationally renowned consultant, is a distinguished development economist and an expert in agricultural economics with over 25 years of experience. He is founder and CEO of The Energy Nexus Network (TENN), a regional ecosystem hub for sustainable energy solutions. Previously he served for almost two decades in United Nations System including as Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and founding Chief Executive Officer for the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) Initiative (2013 – 2015). He also served two four-year terms as Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO, 2005-2013). .

This event was then to be followed by a major Trinity initiative – details are as follows:

“Exploring partnerships and collaboration in research and education”

Trinity College Dublin, 1st-2nd April 2020

As part of Trinity’s vision to deepen research and educational partnerships with leading African Research Universities, this event will bring together experts and institutional leaders to discuss key challenges, share collaborative experiences, and influence the shape and form of Trinity’s future engagements with key partner institutions across the continent of Africa. Objectives include:

– Showcase how innovation in research and educational collaboration can help to address shared challenges.
– Explore opportunities for research and educational collaborations between Trinity College Dublin and Africa’s leading Research Universities
– Connect leading academic experts across the sciences, arts, and humanities.
– Explore best practices in establishing multi-disciplinary, cross faculty research and education partnerships.
– Develop a position paper to inform the Trinity Africa Strategy on a collaborative hub for sustained engagement

What you would have been doing in April?

Following these two major events, I had planned to travel to Dar es Salaam to participate in the 2nd International Conference on Gender and Higher Learning and also to chair the second meeting of the GATE expert advisory board. Following these events, I had planned to commence two projects with the GATE team and a small group of researchers from Trinity College.

Sadly, all of these activities have been postponed in light of the COVID-19 emergency. Hopefully, we can get everything back up and running towards the end of 2020. Needless to say, when it emerged that these events would all have to be delayed, my heart sank as all of the hard work in preparing and organising the events and activities is lost. However,

How the term has fundamentally changed for you?

I have over 16 students undertaking dissertation work at the moment – they had intended to commence with fieldwork and data collection between May and September. Sadly, most of this has now been delayed or cancelled. International travel is not possible during the research period and data collection must be moved on line. This is fine for some projects, but in many cases, students have had to redesign their projects to take account of the emergency public health measures and restrictions on movement. The students have been extraordinarily positive and pro-active in adapting to our new circumstances. I have to say, I been inspired by their flexibility and willingness to explore new ways of working.
Outside of this challenges, the semester ended in its typical manor – all assessment grading and feedback has been completed and shared with the students. I am now preparing for the Courts of Examiners in May.

How your daily work routine has changed?

Since 12th March I have been working from home with my partner and my three teenage children. This is a very new state of affairs for all of us. We have adjusted well – we are all maintaining a regular routine during the day, and really treasure our meal-times together. We are also trying to get some exercise every day. We are very fortunate to live close to a beautiful park and also the sea – thus we have been swimming and walking throughout this time, enjoying the blue and green spaces on our doorstep. Thankfully, my teenagers have all adjusted to on-line schooling well, although it really is a short term measure. They are all very anxious to see their friends again and resume their lives.
Although we have all adjusted, I do look forward to returning to my office – I love the silence of that space and the ease of access to my books and materials. However, this will have to wait another few weeks. Until then, I will keep in contact with the project teams and students via Zoom; and keep trying to push myself to finish up working papers and projects.

Dr Susan Murphy.

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