By Dalia Gala
Oxford was my dream from a young age. I wanted to go to a world class university and get excellent education and pursue my dream of studying biology.
When I was accepted into my PhD, I was delighted. Finally, I was where I belonged. I would attend formals and balls, be a member of my beautiful Merton college, make friends, meet inspiring professors and researchers, and develop as a person.
But so far, I've only got to work in the lab. The pandemic, so to speak, “ruined” my PhD.
I grew up in Poland and was bullied in my primary school, and, to an extent, alienated in my secondary school. Biology was always my escape from reality, when I was looking down a microscope, I felt like I was entering another world, one inaccessible to our bare eyes, a special universe which we had limited and unique opportunity of witnessing thanks to the magic of optics. I invested a lot of my energy and time into studying biology and managed to be accepted into Glasgow University for my integrated master’s degree.
Being accepted to Oxford for my PhD was like a solidification of my conviction that I indeed belonged in the microscopic world. I hoped I was going to be surrounded by like-minded people, and that we could together work on what we love, sharing thoughts and ideas, and discussing into the depths of the night.
These opportunities for socialising were taken away from me. Like everyone studying here for the past 2 years, I was not able to attend a ball, I only attended a handful of formals and could not even really talk to others because of plastic walls separating us. I did not get to row in Summer VIIs, I did not get to witness May morning.
We all have been robbed by the pandemic. What I am still grateful for are my lab mates with whom I spent countless hours doing microscopy on SARS-CoV-2 infected cells, my friends who I made before the pandemic with whom I spend countless hours on Zoom, laughing and crying together, and my department, who allowed me to visit my fruit flies even during the first and strictest lockdown, and where I went throughout all this pandemic time to keep working on what I love. I am heartbroken, but grateful to those who work hard to make the pandemic stop, and still grateful for my opportunity to work in world class lab at the world’s best university.