Andreia Maia
Andreia's chickens
The cancer research community is reacting and adapting to the restrictions placed on us by the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ve asked EACR members to contribute articles and advice on the theme of ‘How to be a cancer researcher during coronavirus’.

About me:

Hello! I am a 1st-year PhD student trying to be productive at home during this pandemic. My name is Andreia Maia, I am from a small town in the centre of Portugal and I work at Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon. My main interest during my PhD is immunology and immunotherapy.

If somebody had told my mom that I would be at home for more than 1 week, she wouldn’t have believed it. But, here I am, almost two months later!

Since 2012 I have lived in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. However I am from a small town called Cartaxo, where I usually visit every weekend. Two months ago, I went to Cartaxo to spend a normal weekend with my family, although that weekend became two months. I am a very proactive person with a lot projects and ideas and now I face myself stuck in my parents’ home.

How am I dealing with it?

At the beginning, I thought that this might last one or two weeks but then I realized that the situation was worse than first thought. So a lot of questions appeared in my head: What can I do? How can I do research at home? What will happen with my PhD project? How can I be productive? How can I take advantage of being at home?

Here I will share some ideas that I used to adapt myself to this new situation:

1Time for science:

During quarantine, all my mornings are exclusively related to science. I may read original papers or reviews related to my research. I might watch webinars or tutorials. To be aware of the latest published research papers, I have several alerts in my e-mail and every day I receive the most recent publications.

However, how can I remember all the important papers that I have read?

As you may know, sometimes it is hard to remember everything that we have read. To solve this issue, I created ‘my personal memory book’ where I write all the relevant information related to the paper that I am reading. In the future, this ‘book’ will help me to write an article or my PhD thesis.

I am not wasting time, I am saving time.

During a normal day in the lab, reading may be difficult but we know that the biggest challenge is writing and it doesn’t matter if we are writing a project, a review or an original paper. So, enjoy these days to finish that review or original paper or write a project based on an idea that you had when you didn’t have time to write about it.

I also attend online courses and various webinars and tutorials. During these last two months, I have finished two online courses related to nutrition and health in cancer. I have also started a third course explaining the process of making beer. Do you like beer?! Do you know how beer is made? Are you curious? So, why not learn more about it? I also attended some technical webinars, for example, webinars related to flow cytometry.

2Organise your documents:

Organization is very important but it can also be a hard task. During quarantine, you can take some time to organize your cloud, your google drive or your e-mail.  You can also update your CV, LinkedIn, etc. Furthermore, you can create an online lab book which can help you organize your lab work and may make it easier to explain and show your experiments to your PI.

3Do exercise:

During quarantine, we may eat more often and we may spend more time in a seated position, so it is very important to stay active. You should do exercise every day! The gyms are closed but some provide online classes. If you are not subscribed to a gym, you can search for some online classes on Youtube. There are many workout videos you can do at home. Why not try to do yoga/meditation? It could be a precious help to release the stress and the anxious feelings caused by these times.

4Read or watch films:

You can also read the news or books that you always wanted to read but you never had time. Some book stores have online shopping, so you can buy a new book and enjoy it. I really like to read and for me it is a way of travelling. If you don’t like to read, you can watch some films or series or watch documentaries and you can learn at the same time.

5Learn a new skill:

In the first two weekends of quarantine, I decided to paint my bedroom furniture: my bed, my desk, my dresser and beside table. I had already had the paints at home for over a year but I never had the time. With my father’s help, we finally did it. It was the first time that I had done that kind of work and I really loved it.

Andreia Maia
Andreia’s vegetable garden

Cooking is also a good way to spend your time because you can eat what you made (or not!!). I made a lot of desserts, some were very good: I tried apple crumble, a healthy version of mango mousse, cookies made with banana, oats and chocolate, etc. However, I also cooked stuff that didn’t taste very good. But cooking is like doing lab work, when we do a new experiment, the chances of doing everything well are low, we just need to be persistent and try again.

Another thing that I tried to learn was to machine sew. I found some old shirts at home, cut them and made a bag for bread. It is harder than it looks! However, I didn’t enjoy it so much.

Andreia Maia
Andreia’s chickens

Then, I decided to make a vegetable garden and I am loving it!!! If you have a backyard at home, just do it! You only need seeds or small plants, land to cultivate and patience. I planted a lot of flowers and a lot of vegetables. It may take a while to eat what I have planted, but it is very enjoyable to see them growing. In my vegetable garden I have strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins, lettuce, turnips, broccoli, leeks, courgettes, peppers, beets, aubergines, melons and a lot of herbs. With my father’s help, I also constructed a hennery with old pallets and now I have two chickens that give me eggs every day. I am loving it!

Here, I have shared with you how I spend my quarantine days and maybe you can take some ideas for yourself. It is very important to accept that this is a difficult situation but it will be better in the future. However, we should remain positive and enjoy our days as much as possible. Enjoy your quarantine!