Researching during coronavirus lockdown

In this blog Sarah Crafter offers some personal reflections on the the challenges of researching at the point of coronavirus lockdown and how ‘care’ was never more important.

Every research grant holds its own challenges. A highly successful senior colleague once told me that having a research grant is as much about overcoming a series of challenges as it is about actually conducting the research. The potential challenges are numerous too: recruiting researchers, recruiting participants, getting through ethics, managing institutional infrastructures, and so on….The coronavirus has added another level to the set of challenges that neither I, nor my team, could have envisioned. It has now been nearly four weeks since it dawned on us that the coronavirus was going to have a major impact on our project; and all those who are involved in it. Each day brought a fresh thought or concern about what the effects would be.

In that first week, when we were urged to go into self-isolation, there were so many questions to think about. How would this impact on our team? How would this impact on the young people in our study? How do we keep everybody safe? How can we stay connected and should we stay connected? What are the short-term implications for the research? What could be the long-term implications for the research? 

But while these important questions were flying, they don’t really do justice to how it felt to be living, emotionally and physically in that moment. The near irresistible need to constantly looking at the phone for news updates, statistics on coronavirus and the experiences of friends in other countries. I found myself, at times, deeply fatigued.

As the country went into isolation and then lockdown, our team re-grouped, met online and began to enact that which is central to our project – ‘care’. The team talked through their fears, for ourselves, our friends and families, and the young people involved in our project. Our Work Package 1 team has spent the last five months building strong and trusting relationships with separated child migrants who are, themselves, already a vulnerable and isolated group. What impact would lockdown have on them? Could we help by staying connected and would they want to stay connected? For us, suspending the research study was out of the question, they  might need us, and we would not desert them at this most uncertain time. We recognised that the adult stakeholders in our study would be facing their own unprecedented challenges attempting to care for young people whilst in isolation. Now was not the time for asking them to be part of our data collection. It was equally important, that we also foreground the care and safety of everyone working on the project. Fearful about our own health and the health of our loved-ones. Team members with young children suddenly had to manage the care of their own children whilst still trying to work from home. 

This project has the notion of ‘care’ as a central thread running through it – both as a point of conceptualisation and as a point of action or activity. What are separated child migrant’s experiences of care, being cared for, and caring for each other? But I also realised something else as coronavirus hit the UK with full force – that ‘care’ had moved beyond something we were researching, attempting to understand, or exploring in ‘others’. For me (I don’t speak for the whole team here), care had become intimately interwoven through all aspects of our research project. Care is intimately interwoven or infused through the fabric of our design, our team, our relationship with the young people, our embodied experience, our virtual experience (as our connections moved online). 

In the care literature there is a phrase that says caring includes both ‘caring for’ and ‘caring about’ ….during coronavirus perhaps we are also ‘caring through our research, caring by our research’.