Research stopped short

[By: Joanna Rutkowska] 

On the first day of February, I have gotten on my flight, happy to be going to Milan for a three-month long secondment. Little did I know that I would be back in the Netherlands long before the three-month period is over.

I received a very warm welcome at the University of Milano-Bicocca from both MOTION PhD students there, Julia and Victoria, and other members of their lab and department. After the initial settling down in my new office, Julia and I resumed work on our collaborative project. We have come up with the idea for it more than a year ago, and we have since been working on it via skype and email. It took us a week to finally make the experiment work like we have wanted, from the technical side and the research side, and we began piloting the task to see if infants can in fact do it. It is an EEG study that involves infants watching visual stimuli with socio-emotional component, so we predicted they would be interested enough to watch it for quite some time. When we tested our first pilot baby, we were so happy! She managed to watch all the trials till the end of the experiment, and we were hopeful that others will do the same. We scheduled several research appointments for the next weeks, and we waited.

As you know already, the coronavirus pandemic in Europe started the earliest in Italy. To be exact, it started in Lombardy region that was also one of the worst hit regions. Milan is the capital city of Lombardy, so when the first reports of cases piling up came in the second half of February, the lab management decided to stop the testing preventatively to ensure that we, the researchers, do not contribute to spreading the virus. As we know now, it was the right decision, since not long from then the universities were closed completely for several weeks.

What does it mean for our research project? Well, it is still stopped as of now. I came back to the Netherlands at the beginning of March, not having completed my secondment yet. We hope to resume testing after summer. I hope I can still make a research visit to the University of Milano-Bicocca, and Julia can still visit me at the Radboud University Nijmegen. However, whether we finish testing on time for our PhD theses is still not known. I am still very grateful to only have been affected by the virus in this way, and I am grateful for the amazing support and care I received from my colleagues, fellow MOTION ESRs, and my supervisors.