Research during COVID-19: ‘Fall forward’ and not ‘fall back’

In this post, Eric Ngang, a PGR in Law discusses the impact COVID-19 has had on his research.  Eric’s research area is in the discipline of Environmental Law with a special interest in Climate Change Law Making.  Eric has previously written about the PGR Writing Summer School.

The year 2020, which is still in its second quarter, has been an emotional roller coaster for me. The year ushered in the global spread of COVID-19 from its point source leaving no one in the world indifferent. While it reveals the glaring inequalities amongst humanity and the uncertainties associated with disasters, it is at the same time enabling the best from humanity and nature.

Eric Ngang
Eric Ngang

On a personal level, being separated from my family and having to adjust to the new norm puts on an added layer of complexity to already difficult scenarios. I constantly think about my family and several others in Africa that have to cope with our governments copied-and-pasted measures.Such governments like mine have been quick adopting quarantine, self-isolation, and lockdowns from the west while forgetting accompanying measures to quarantine poverty, inequalities, and justices to ease the suffering of the masses.

Notwithstanding, this period has been an invaluable moment for me to introspect. The question at the back of my mind has been how I can be more serving to myself, humanity and nature while learning from the steep curve and new world order being imposed by COVID-19. I have focused on maintaining mental and psychological sanity amidst the challenges of isolation, breaking of normal routines, the fear of losing loved ones and constant fake news bombardments, amongst others.

COVID-19 has had both positive and negative impact on my research. Its spread escalated with shutting down of airspaces a few days before I was supposed to travel to Kenya to commence data collection, which is a critical part for the completion of my PhD. I have had to adjust my research timelines while hoping that the situation gets better. In between, I had to reschedule preparations for three full conference paper presentations related to my research in Delhi, Montreal, and Cape Town, as these were all postponed to 2021.

In these very unsettling times, it is easy to step back and lay the blame on the COVID-19 pandemic for the global free-fall situation it is causing. The end result of such a position is finding oneself on the same spot after the pandemic. A mindset I have thus adopted is that while things seem to be falling, the best thing is to fall along but making sure I fall forward. Rolling with the punches. I have taken advantage of the many free online webinars in my research area and for professional development. During such sessions, I have met with incredible people whose insights have enriched the reflections on my research and my personal development. More importantly, I have made a major decision to do online interviews with some of the senior researchers and established academics I have identified during these meetings. I shall incorporate their perspectives together with the future envisioned physical face-to-face interviews and focus group discussions I shall conduct in Kenya.  This is falling forward to me and I advise other social scientists who are in a similar situation like me to seize the numerous online opportunities emerging during this COVID-19 period to enhance themselves and improve their research.

What impact, positive and negative, has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your research? What strategies are you using to ‘fall forward’?

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