Nimbus has a vibrant international community of doctoral researchers working on a wide diversity of projects funded by SFI Research Centres, the SFI ADVANCE CRT and by other national and EU programmes. Like everybody else, these students – both those already working on their projects and incoming students – have faced challenges due to Covid-19.
Our current students, who are at various stages of their research projects from first year to close to thesis submission, found themselves locked down in their accommodation in March 2020 with no access to Nimbus or CIT. As many of our students are international and non-EU, it was particularly difficult for them to be remote from their families and to be also concerned about those families who were themselves dealing with Covid-19 in their home countries.
Our first principle in Nimbus is to treat every student as an individual and, in all circumstances, to act in the individual student’s best interests. The supervisory teams therefore engaged with their students to work out how best to facilitate the student to continue working on their project while also managing their particular personal circumstances during a time of great challenge. We are relatively fortunate in Nimbus that the majority of our doctoral projects do not depend on regular access to laboratory facilities so that students could continue work remotely using their laptops and accessing software tools online where needed. While some activities had to be rescheduled, all students, with excellent support from their supervisors, were able to maintain progress on their projects. I want to express my immense gratitude to students, supervisors and Heads of academic departments for their effort, commitment and flexibility since lockdown in March.
All doctorates in CIT are “structured” in that they include structured learning in a range of researcher skills in addition to the core research project. These would have been delivered face-to-face by both CIT and external trainers but, in common with all other teaching, they had to move online. I must again express gratitude, this time to CIT and the ADVANCE Centre for Research Training for their efforts in moving research postgraduate learning and training online while maintaining a high quality of delivery.
An important part of the “postgraduate journey” is interaction with other students and this was completely disrupted during lockdown. Online one-to-one interaction and group events can substitute to a limited extent but isolation in student accommodation proved a growing challenge as lockdown extended. Therefore, as soon as lockdown eased, the CIT Covid Management Team supported us in reopening Nimbus, under tightly controlled and safe conditions, to allow students who wished to access Nimbus from time-to-time to do so both as a break from confinement to their accommodation and simply to be able to talk (socially-distanced) to other students and staff.
Our incoming students for 2020-21 have faced their own challenges. Uncertainty about the reopening of CIT and student accommodation made planning difficult. For students coming from abroad, travel restrictions caused uncertainty and, for non-EU students, the closure of visa offices in many countries made it impossible to apply for Irish student visas. Our supervisors, the CIT Graduate Studies Office and the CIT International Office have given superb support to these prospective students and we expect to have eight new Irish and international doctoral students with us before December 2020.
I have said it already above but I cannot say it enough: an immense thank you to students, supervisors and all others who have allowed postgraduate research to continue with minimum possible disruption. Your dedication is absolutely superb!
We all look forward to more normal times in the year ahead. Prof. John Barrett, Head of Nimbus Research Centre