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Researchers during COVID-19, ‘fall forward’ and not ‘fall back’

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By AuthorAID Team | May 7, 2020  | None

Eric Ngang is a social environmentalist from Cameroon, currently pursuing a PhD in law at the University of Birmingham, UK. His research area is environmental law with a special interest in climate change law making and his fieldwork is based on Kenya.

The year 2020, which is still only in its second quarter, has been an emotional roller coaster for me. The year ushered in the global spread of the coronavirus 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 out of humanity and nature.

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. Governments like mine have been quick to adopt quarantine, self-isolation, and lockdowns from the west while forgetting to adopt accompanying measures to quarantine poverty, inequalities, and injustices 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 many challenges such as isolation, breaking of normal routines, the fear of losing loved ones and constant fake news bombardments.

COVID-19 has had both positive and negative impact on my research. I was supposed to travel to Kenya to commence data collection, which is a critical part for the completion of my PhD, but I couldn’t because the airspace was closed. I have had to adjust my research timelines while hoping that the situation gets better. I also had to reschedule preparations for three conference paper presentations in Delhi, Montreal, and Cape Town; these have all been postponed to 2021.

In these very unsettling times, it is easy to step back and lay the blame on COVID-19 pandemic for the global free-fall situation it is causing. The end result of such a position is finding oneself in 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, to me, is falling forward and I advise other social scientists who 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.

Eric Ngang is on LinkedIn, Facebook and tweets as @ngang_eric. For more on his research, see this recent blog post.

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