In the summer before I started my EngD project at Designability, I attended a full-day 'How to Manage Your Research Project' training session. It was a very useful event, and a lot of the content was really 'how to manage your supervisors', with some good organisational and planning tips thrown in. However, I distinctly remember us talking about risk management and we were encouraged to prepare for any eventuality.
Unfortunately, a pandemic was not on my list.
I now find myself in the situation where I need to make a decision about the work I do over the next few months. Luckily, I have also learned to be adaptable and, as I currently see it, I have two options:
- Continue as normal, with some practical changes such as working from home, but fully anticipating the study going ahead as planned in April.
- Postpone the study (a second time!) and work on other tasks in the meantime until the COVID-19 situation settles down.
There are a few problems with option 1.
Firstly, recruitment was meant to start at the beginning of April, but given the current trajectory of increasing number of cases of Coronavirus in the UK, people may not be very keen to sign up to anything. Furthermore, some of the participants I need to recruit are vulnerable adults, potentially with compromised immune systems.
Secondly, the study is taking place at an external organisation who may or may not be taking their own precautions to protect against Coronavirus and might need to cancel my room booking if they deem this appropriate.
Thirdly, we do not know how the Government's advice will change moving forward. I do not want to speculate, but if, like in other countries, non-essential organisations are closed, anything that I have in the diary will need to be cancelled, which involves contacting a lot of people and rearranging for the future.
These are all big unknowns that are out of my control, and so option 1 carries a lot of risk with it at this point in time, both for the project and for any potential participants. On the other hand, option 2 clearly means a delay to the study.
However, I have plenty of other work that can be going on in the meantime (mainly transcription and analysis), and shifting around the order of the study and outstanding analysis is not a big concern. If anything, it gives me even more time to get the next study well-polished and ready to go, and delaying the time-consuming elements of recruitment until the situation is more under control will save a lot of time in the long run.
One of the risks to keep in mind about delaying the study is that my project does have an end date that is getting ever closer. I still have well over a year to collect any data, but I cannot become complacent. For now, though, I think sticking with option 2 is the best approach for me to take.
So, there's my COVID-19 update. Don't forget to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds!