Life in Lockdown – A Perspective from a Cancer Researcher Down Under

by Amila Suraweera

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’.

Saying this is the opportunity to better yourself – “learn a new technique, language or an instrument or take up a new hobby”, somehow doesn’t apply to me. I keep asking myself, where do I get the time?

From finishing off experiments for two manuscripts, writing these manuscripts, writing grants, zoom meetings, following up on students and being a parent to two small kids, life is very, very hectic. To add to matters, does the concept of working from home mean as long as I’m home I have to work? For some reason I can’t just stop working at a certain hour, as I feel obliged to work whenever I’m home and in academia there is endless work to be done.

I’m certainly not complaining. I feel quite fortunate to live in Australia as the COVID-19 situation here is far better here than in most other countries. However, life in lockdown has its challenges!

Here is what has become the new norm, the associated challenges and waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel:


My new office

Editing manuscripts, making endless figures for manuscripts and writing rebuttal letters. I had two weeks to address reviewers’ comments for two manuscripts, before the lab shut down and was only open for essential COVID-19 research. Under normal circumstances, these experiments would have taken 6 weeks to complete. However, I was determined to finish off the manuscripts, as I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my research idle for months on end.


Writing endless grants seems to be the ‘in thing’. You’re at home, so why not write?

The thankless tasks you pushed back:

Let’s not forget to mention that now’s the time to do all that paperwork and analyses that we’ve been putting off for months due to lack of time (but never really wanted to do) – great!

Virtual meetings:

Virtual meetings have been good during the pandemic; however, everyone seems to want to have a meeting. So, juggling virtual meetings with the daily/weekly deadlines can be a challenge.

Home schooling:

In parallel, more involved schooling of younger children has been added to the daily routine. Childcare centres throughout Australia have remained open throughout this pandemic, much to my younger child’s relief (and mine), however, schools are closed. So, this means that older children have to be home schooled and supervised, while we’re supposed to be working from home.

The image on the left is ANZAC day artwork from my older child celebrating ANZAC day from home. ANZAC day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand.

Staying up-to-date with the news:

Keeping up to date with all COVID-19 related news has been part of the day-to-day routine for most. From reading about vaccine trials to the FDA emergency use authorisation of remdesivir, it has been a constant reminder of the times we live in.

Maintaining mental health:

Last, but not least, going out to get some fresh air and exercise has been a vital part of life. While keeping active, the benefit for maintaining our mental health cannot be stressed enough. Living in Australia, we enjoy the outdoors all year round and having the opportunity to go out for some exercise has been a blessing in these difficult times.

About the author:

Amila Suraweera received a PhD from the University of Queensland, Australia. She did her first Postdoctoral Fellowship at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. Amila moved back to Australia for the birth of her first child and after having a break from research, she started a second Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. Amila currently works in the field of DNA repair and cancer biology and enjoys juggling a career in research and motherhood.