PhD students and postdocs have had - just like other TU staff - a hard time during the corona crisis. Travel restrictions meant that some researchers were stuck abroad while others combined home schooling of their children with deep thinking. For better or worse. And then there were the countless research labs with restricted access. Delta looks back on the past year with three PhD students and postdocs.
The last time I spoke to you, you were sharing a kitchen table with your in-laws. Are you still in India?
“No, I flew back to the Netherlands in August. Between lockdowns, that is. This April I went back to India for a month because I lost my father to corona.”
My condolences. Was it very unexpected?
“He lived to be 58 and despite the covid infection, his death was unexpected. It happened so fast, he was gone within five days. From 1 April, anyone over 45 years of age in India could be vaccinated. We wanted to get my father vaccinated, but it turned out that he had already been infected on 31 March. After that, things happened very quickly. After a few days, he deteriorated so fast that we rushed to get him a hospital bed, which was not easy in the region where my family lives. In the hospital they put him on oxygen, but eventually he had to be transferred to another hospital. He died of a stroke in the ambulance between the two hospitals.”
What was he like?
“He was a real family man. He worked hard, had his own small business in accounting and tax management. He spent as much time as he could with his family. We didn‘t talk to each other super often, but he had his own gestures to show how much he cared about me. Especially when I was new in the Netherlands in 2015, he was really supportive. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know the country and I had taken out a loan to be able to study here. That all weighed heavily on me. When I started looking for a job, he also supported me enormously. He listened, he encouraged me to not give up and to pursue my own dream. And by telling me that it would all work out.”
‘My supervisor and colleagues at TU Delft couldn’t have responded better’
How did it feel to be in the Netherlands while your family was in an area that was heavily affected by corona?
“It was very frustrating, you feel powerless. I tried to arrange a lot from here. In my family's region, it was not clear which hospitals would accept corona patients. I called about 16 of them from here. In the end, I managed to get a bed for my father through a colleague of his. Covid-19 is so new and unprecedented that it is hard to know what to do. I could not be at his cremation itself. I did manage to fly back to India a week and a half later. Then I did a period of mourning with my family, which is customary for Hindus. Shortly after my father died, my mother - who had also been infected with corona - suddenly deteriorated rapidly. We managed to get her a hospital bed through acquaintances. Fortunately, she recovered.”
Do you still have time to work after such a loss?
“My supervisor and colleagues at TU Delft couldn’t have responded better. I could take all the time I needed to be with my family in India. When I returned to the Netherlands in mid-May, I could hardly concentrate on work at first. I tried to read, I tried to write. It was impossible. From June, I really started to pick up my work again. I now try to focus on things that were almost done and in my case that means writing papers. Every now and then I go to the office. It’s nice to be distracted by colleagues for a while.”
How is your mother doing now?
“She has hardly had any time to mourn because she was hospitalised the day after my father's death. She needed all her strength and focus to stay alive. Now she is back home and my aunt has temporarily moved in with her. My mother does mourn, but I think the real blow will come when my aunt has to go back to her own family. From that point on, she will really be alone. I worry about that a lot.”
What do you expect from the coming year?
“Not a clue. When I spoke to you last year, I had to postpone my wedding because of corona and I had missed a lot of research hours because I was stuck in India. I thought we were hit hard then. I never expected anything like this to happen. So what does next year have in store for me? I am not sure. On the other hand, I am relieved. I had braced myself for the loss of both my father and my mother. Luckily, my mother is still here.”
This interview is part of a series about doing research during the corona crisis: