Reflections on working through the COVID-19 pandemic

Challenges of COVID-19 in connection to our science and our expert groups.
Published: 15 September 2020

Silvana Birchenough, Chair of ICES Ecosystem Processes and Dynamics Steering Group (EPDSG), has been discussing the challenges and opportunities that have resulted from this recent pandemic with expert group chairs.

The last seven months have been very challenging. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have stopped us, made us consider and appreciate the freedom in our lives. In many countries, lockdown measures have forced us to stay at home and reshuffle the way we live. Our lives have been reorganized to adjust to these challenges, reducing our interactions to minimize the spread of this virus (e.g. closure of schools, new style of operations for supermarkets and closure of theatres, to name a few!). 

For many of us, this has meant completely rethinking our normal activities. Many of us may be used to working at home and dealing with online meetings and workshops. However, I have to acknowledge a lot of very creative ways to effectively host and support discussions have been done. 

On the one hand, shorter, targeted meetings save time and clearly reduce our carbon footprint - a benefit welcomed by our environment. On the other, budgets have been reduced and redirected to support more pressing needs (food sources and medicines) in less developed countries in the world. Therefore, planned work has been postponed and efforts shifted elsewhere. 

I have observed the resilience and great creativity of expert group​​ chairs who have effectively continued with meetings, discussions, and the development of new scientific ideas. Whilst possible, this has required a lot more organization and planning: having to scope and maintain online engagement over lengthy discussions, running online sub-group discussions to effectively carve out a paper, having to delay and reorganize conferences, workshops, and projects, and conducting online webinars to keep the momentum on a dedicated topic. As well as having available time to prepare an effective meeting and discussions. 

All these activities have continued over a background of resilience, professionalism, and preparation. Most of my colleagues have also referred to the challenges of multitasking with work and home activities (e.g. children, caring for elderly parents, home chores). The reality is that we are all so different, but colleagues have continued to produce and adjust their work patterns. I have witnessed my colleagues working late evenings or early morning to keep up with our frequent activities as well as our normal routines, which is commendable with a high level of commitment and determination. 

Although some of these challenges have caused us some additional work and effort, overall, it also highlights that we are a creative, resilient, and a supportive community with a very strong network. An effective and active community with a great deal of determination to get things done. We haven’t stopped and most of our activities have continued to progress as usual or with a limited level of disruption.

I want to thank the expert group chairs (WGHABD, WGSCALLOP, WGZE, BEWG, WGGRAFY and WGEUROBUS) that contributed with their personal experiences and information to compile this article and their hard work to advance our science under these unprecedented times. The science under EPDSG continues to make a strong contribution and looking ahead, I am sure we will look back at COVID-19 challenges and will value our time at home and the opportunity to rethink our lives.

ICES EPDSG is responsible for guiding and supporting expert groups that study the state and resilience of marine ecosystems and food webs, as well as the life histories, diversity and interactions of component biota.

​​As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, ICES Bureau has agreed​ that expert groups will continue to operate through online meetings until 31 January 2021. 

Join ICES webinar on 16 September where we reflect upon the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fisheries, markets, communities, and management.

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ICES expert group meetings will take place virtually until at least 31 January​ 2021.

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Reflections on working through the COVID-19 pandemic

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