Life in lockdown: an international perspective
Originally from Chennai, India, PhD student Durai Arun Pannir Selvam shares how he’s navigating the pandemic.
Scotland’s public health response to the pandemic can be challenging for everyone at the University, but perhaps none more so than our international students. Originally from Chennai, India, PhD student Durai Arun Pannir Selvam provides an interesting account of how he’s coping.
Arun is undertaking the third year of his research at the Institute for Digital Communications. He has also completed a Digital Research Services internship with the University’s Information Services team.
“Now in my final year, I’m just looking forward to grabbing everlasting memories of my time at university – in whatever form life throws at me,” he says. “Edinburgh has a charm like no other city in the world so even during these strange days I’m striving to enjoy the moments I have been given.”
Arun, 32, has this year been joined in Edinburgh by his extended family: “There were days when I would feel so down and overcome and I just wanted to have a proper conversation with my friends and family.” The move involved uprooting from their home in India for a 14-hour, 5,000-mile flight to Scotland, where they promptly entered quarantine.
“We’re in private accommodation and we’re fine with the quarantine,” Arun says. “Because I have my family here now, I don’t face the problems that a lone student faces. However, I was still contacted by the Covid response team and they enquired about food, groceries and other essentials that I might need. I felt comforted that the University contacted me and I feel the University tried its best to support me.”
Working from home
For his PhD, Arun is working to improve image registration techniques in adaptive radiotherapy for cancer patients: “Medical image processing is one of the research areas in biomedical engineering which is evolving fastest and I wanted to do research in such a dynamically growing area. What dominates my desire to study here is the University’s research excellence, along with its passion to drive students to become pioneers in their area of interest.”
The potential impact of Covid-19 on his research was a worry for Arun ahead of the semester. “I was a little concerned about the research data availability and computing infrastructure,” he says. “So far, this has been well handled by the University.
“I am quite comfortable working most of the time at home. Although I miss working at my desk in the office and being in a place to meet my colleagues, I am as productive as I would be in an office environment.
“If you have a child at home, it can be very inconvenient to work in that environment but there is a bright side for me. Because I am not commuting daily, and I am not interrupted just because I have to catch the bus home, I can have a very flexible schedule, work the hours that I need and have regular breaks too.
“My internship helped me to buy a mobile workstation for my research work, which has had its ups and downs like normal. During lockdown, my conference paper was rejected which hit me hard but, with my wife and friends’ support, I was able to re-do the work, submitted it to another conference and it was accepted!”
Arun also finds time to check in on the welfare of other students and has had NHS Scotland Mental Health First Aid training. He’s the Institute for Digital Communications’ graduate student society representative and is a former member of the Postgraduate Experience Committee.
“A group of us were trained to identify students with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and direct them to professional assistance. This has helped me track my family and friends’ mental health. I feel I am blessed to have my family here living under one roof in Edinburgh during lockdown. That helps to overcome tougher days. It’s not the same for everyone, and I am sure everyone has been affected differently. Something more is needed to address key issues among students.”
The year ahead
Reflecting on the first few weeks of what looks set to be an unusual year ahead, Arun acknowledges that there have been problems but still finds cause for optimism: “Yes, the University needs improvement but I would say the University is trying to cater for the needs of the student and I know there is no organisation or administrative process without hiccups or bottlenecks. As long as the University tries to help students I will always have better morale about the situation.
“Everyone is facing difficulties with the extraordinary circumstances and everyone wants to get it over with and return to normal. As an engineer I always encourage adaptability and flexibility to any environment. Given the circumstances, I’ve been able to adapt to the new situation and give more importance to the bright side rather than the downsides.”