'My first year at DLGS: Pandemic and the PhD' – Riyan Habeeb

February 2021

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, no quote can better summarize my first year at DLGS than Charles Dickens (in A Tale of Two Cities). I arrived in Dresden late February 2020 to start my PhD which focuses on inquiring how nature-based solutions can be deployed for urban water security in global south. After a warm welcome and orientation by DLGS committee, there were tons of new formalities to be done but thanks to our office assistance everything went with ease. It was the best of times, introduction to new events, interactions with colleagues, and much learning to follow under abled guidance of my supervisors. But no more than two weeks and countrywide lock down was imposed in Germany due to corona pandemic. It was a shock, not having enough to know place and you enter in a state of complete isolation, at the time when you had assumed the best of times had just started!

The pandemic was cruel, it didn’t leave nobody untouched, and the news of pandemic from my country and my family were worrying as well. But thanks to constant communication and online interaction through our DLGS meetings for all cohorts, we could share our experiences and motivations. My supervisors were especially kind and supportive. Despite these push backs they motivated me to explore my topic and keep working. Thanks to all these people I was able to continue and cope with the unusual situation.

There were a lot of events scheduled but unfortunately, everything got cancelled due to the pandemic. It was really heart breaking not to experience the cultural and academic events in person. But the pandemic also presented with the opportunity to attend and learn things online. Major workshops, conferences, study and recreation materials were made online. A flood of knowledge and learning brimmed through the desktop. In these times, I could manage to attend numerous workshops, few conferences and online courses at the comfort of my chair, time and disposition. In these times I could manage to delve more into the topic and submit my final research proposal by the end of six months. It got approved later in December. We had our summer school online as well and it presented a good opportunity to present our research not only to fellow colleagues but to family and friends who could be invited online. By this time lockdown was relaxed as well and we finished our summer school with a sumptuous dinner at Grosser Garten, all thanks to our DLGS beneficiaries, it was first in person exchange since the lockdown with fruitful discussions around the table.

First year gives you the opportunity to explore more and learn more, hence it is prudent to utilize the time to acquire new skills and tools which will be helpful in present or later stages of PhD. Though in the ‘best of times’ I would have preferred all these learnings in person, but the ‘worst of times’ were not so worst either, it presented a different perspective on learning. Now looking back, paradoxically, I can look forward too, the pandemic pushed us to be better and revealed our traits of adaptability and empathy, the very things that makes us human. It is the only way forward to build a better and more resilient future. And it would be these very things that I would be preparing to collect as I prepare for my field visit in the second year.