Business as usual in unusual times

Alexis Brown and Raj Joshi keep the financial side of physics running as smoothly as possible during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Suzette Chan - 12 June 2020

When the University of Alberta closed its campuses to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a handful of workers stayed on site to keep basic functions going. Among them were Alexis Brown and Raj Joshi of the Department of Physics.

Brown and Joshi help manage the financial side of research grants. Brown worked on campus throughout Phase One of the lockdown to access the paper records necessary to prepare payroll and track expenditures. Joshi worked from home for the first couple of weeks, but returned to the office as COVID-19 research started up in physics labs. 

“We are really having to think of things that we haven’t before with social distancing, like where we walk, how we walk, and wearing a mask in common areas,” says Brown, who has been with Physics since she joined the university in September 2015.

Home life has also changed. “There is more work after hours,” says Brown. When she’s not working, Brown has spent time on leisure activities that the lockdown allows.  “Lots of walks and bike rides,” she says. “The dog is getting so much attention. Going to the grocery store is an incredible highlight.” On a recent grocery run with her adult children, Brown’s son was surprised by how excited she and her daughter were. “We look at everything and talk about everything, but what else is there to do?” 

Joshi would have joined Physics in 2015 at the same time as Brown, but he was in the midst of a European vacation, so he started a month later. There is no overseas vacation for Joshi this year, as COVID-19 has affected his travel plans in addition to his tasks at work, and how he works.

Like Brown, he has found that the work doesn’t end at the office. “One thing that’s really changed for me is that I have my email open now when I’m home,” he says. “I’m answering email more than I did.”

Joshi, who worked in the Research Service Office for eight years before joining Physics, normally assists professors to manage and make purchases on their research funds. Recently, he has been sourcing supplies needed to accommodate lab and office staff returning to work. 

Brown and Joshi look forward to returning to normalcy, but first, there is another transition. The Physics office staff have split into two teams which alternate between working in the office and working at home. Through it all, Brown and Joshi continue to ensure that financial support remains as normal as possible under the circumstances.