University of Southampton

Well, what a start to the year it has been. After a frantic end of the year working right up to the wire preparing the Research Excellence Framework submission for the Faculty that is due (for now) to be submitted on the 31 March, I had a few very quiet days in what turned out to be the most unusual Christmas for our family that we have ever had. For the first time we found ourselves with just the four of us in our own home, instead of our usual traveling to family either in the UK or New Zealand. I had anticipated that the first week back would a relatively quiet week, spent catching up on my research, working on papers, discussing results with my group, and making plans for the year ahead. However, it rapidly became clear with the change in teaching for schools, colleges and universities, swiftly followed by the new national lockdown, that a quiet week was definitely not on the cards…

I am sure that just like me, many of you are rightly concerned by this new lockdown and the effect it will have on our lives. There are numerous challenges, including the return to home schooling and the inevitable competition for parental time between caring and work (and the equally inevitable competition for household internet bandwidth!), the restrictions on daily life, and yet again the reduction of social contact other than the virtual.  Many colleagues have expressed their concerns to me about their research programmes which are being impacted again by reduced access to laboratory or clinical facilities. All I can say is please bear with us as we reassess the risk assessments that we have in place to permit safe working in the laboratories and establish what is the appropriate level of access and prioritisation, given the change in the national and local picture. 

Ultimately, we have to remember why we are doing this. The restrictions we are being asked to endure are necessary given the rate of infection in our communities and the strain it is imposing on the NHS, our NHS. I am so thankful for the work our clinical colleagues in the Faculty are doing again, as they are asked to return to the wards to support the NHS. Our undergraduate medical students undertaking their clinical placements in an NHS, I suspect none of them imagined when they decided to study medicine. The strain equally is being felt by those engaged in delivering our educational programmes, having rapidly to yet again reassess, replan and adjust delivery and assessment of our courses.

However, as we are all now aware, there is light on the horizon. The vaccines that many of our staff helped to get through clinical trials are now being delivered. The saliva testing programme for our staff and students who are not able to stay at home is still successfully up and running. We must try and tap into the remarkable resilience that so many have shown over the last year to see us through what is likely to be a difficult few weeks ahead. Please remember the pressures that colleagues might be facing at this time. Be kind to ourselves and one another and check in on your colleagues. If you are a personal tutor, drop a line to your tutees.  It is only together with collegiality and friendship that we can make it through these challenging times.

If it doesn’t, rain it pours… by Professor John Holloway

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