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What it’s like being back on campus

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As we all know, because of lockdown restrictions most students have not returned to campus since the initial university shutdown over a year ago. Since then, parts of campus have opened back up in stages.

I’ve been working on campus since September 2020. I have an experimental PhD project that I couldn’t make progress with from home so I managed to get access to my laboratory fairly early on. Of course, many aspects of being in the lab and on campus is different with measures put in place to keep us all safe.

If you’ve been curious what it might be like on campus, here are some things you might want to keep in mind.

#1 – Plan Ahead

Whilst a number of buildings on campus are open, there is currently limited access. You will need to make sure prior to traveling onto campus that you are permitted into the building/s you want to access. If you want to go into an office or laboratory to work, speak to your supervisor. Local arrangements vary by department and building.

In my case, I had to attend building-specific safety inductions, update all of my risk assessments to account for Covid-19 safety measures, ensure I had swipe card access, and get added onto team logs. The lab I work in (and all labs I’m familiar with) now employs a booking system for equipment. This means that it’s essential I have a plan for my week in the lab and that I book the machines (e.g. microscopes, cutting machines, furnace, etc) several days prior. We’re not meant to be entering the building unless we have equipment booked. This ensures that occupancy levels are kept at a number than ensures social distancing can be maintained at all times.

There are study spaces and library services that can be booked online.

#2 – Bring The Essentials

Always have your mask with you. Many of the buildings will have hand sanitizer dispensers but it’s always a good idea to have your own with you. You may not have access to all the usual facilities (e.g. breakout rooms, vending machines, water dispensers and the like); this varies from building to building, so it’s worth bringing a bottle of water with you, a snack and your student card.

Sanitise or wash hands frequently

#3 – Follow The Rules

Like many establishments you’ll likely have visited, such as supermarkets, there are rules on campus around wearing a face covering and social distancing. Some buildings have one way systems in place, others have limits when using the lift. Make sure to pay attention to the signs and follow them.

Here are some examples of signs you’ll see in buildings.

Some rooms have occupancy limits in order to ensure that social distancing can be maintained at all times. (above). Some buildings also have one way systems in place (below)

There is plenty of directional and instructional signage around all buildings. Remember the rules are there to keep us all as safe as possible. Do follow them.

#4 – Get Tested

The University encourages you to get tested for Covid-19 regularly to help keep our community safe. You can find out how to book a test here.

I spoke to some of my colleagues about their experiences with Covid-19 testing at the university.

“Booking the test couldn’t have been easier – quick and simple online and you get an email reminder the day before. Doing the test on yourself can be a little daunting at first. You hear all these stories about people gagging and feeling sick but the staff were very patient and really accommodating. They have step by step instructions that are really easy to follow and the staff are happy to help you the best they can. My results came through every time between 30 mins to an hour – which was really convenient!”

“I went twice before Christmas, before I went home and I found the process very easy. I found the link on the University’s website and there were lots of time slots available for me to book a test in the Sackville building (I believe this location is no longer available and so I would have to go further to the main campus now). I arrived on time, and was guided through the process by the friendly staff. There was lots of space to keep social distance, and a one way system in place. I was out the door in less than 10mins and I received my results by text and email within the hour.”

#5 – Ask Yourself: Can I Work From Home?

I only have access to the lab every other week and during the weeks I’m allowed in, I only make the trip into the lab when I have equipment booked. So, I still spend majority of my time working from home. We still don’t have any in-person meetings or seminars or conferences – these continue to be run virtually.

Certain lockdown restrictions are in the process of being relaxed, however most of the advice for universities have not changed. If you need clarification, do check with your department.

There are study spaces on campus that have opened up if you need somewhere to work. Additionally, a number of library services have resumed. Again, make sure you plan ahead before traveling onto campus.

Being on campus is a little different to what it was before March 2020 – but that’s okay. Whilst there’s more planning I have to do prior to coming onto campus, it ensures that once I’m in lab things can run as smoothly as possible. Overall, I have managed to carry on with my experimental work, which has been amazing. But, it’s been much slower going than before the pandemic started. I’m aware of course that it’s out my hands, or the university’s hands, and so I simply do the best I can with what I’m permitted to do when it comes to working on campus (i.e. the labs). Ultimately, all the precautions in place are there to keep me, you, all of us, safe.

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