Four walls and research -- in Austria

Just like everyone else, I am currently mostly stuck inside four walls. Here in Austria coronavirus response has been swift and decisive, with the government closing down everything 13th of March (gatherings of 5+ verboten, only allowed to go out for food, for necessary work or for helping others), and at time of writing 1st of April these restrictions continue.

I began this year preparing for a 7-month postdoc research exchange position in Montanuniversität Leoben (University of Leoben). The city of Leoben is located in central Austria. The population is about 25 000 and the average height above sea level is 540m. Montanuniversität Leoben is the Austrian university focused on mining, metallurgy and materials. The university was founded in 1840, houses around 4000 students and 900 academic staff. I am doing research at the chair of ferrous metallurgy which head of chair is Professor Johannes Schenk. My research topic deals with metallurgical coke and replacing fossil based coal with bio-based material.

The plan was to bring my family along, my husband could work remotely and his mother would come to part-time babysit our 4-year-old daughter. Inquiries and study into the Austrian daycare system seemed to indicate that most kindergarten are half-day only (7 to 12) compared to the Finnish normal '8 to 17' ones. We thought this would work out well -- daycare for the first half of the day, and my mother-in-law would babysit for some hours in the day, giving us a full working day.

At first we struggled with the system which was new to us, but persistence paid off and we got a daycare position at a 'Tagesmutter,' direct translation 'Day mom' which is the same as the Finnish 'perhepäivähoitaja'. We were ecstatic, but the next day it was announced that all schools and daycares would close until further notice.

From then on it has been a balance between working and caring for our daughter for both me and my husband. We try to get some outside time as possible (thankfully there is a large volleyball field behind the student apartment building where we live -- any alleged large holes in the sand have nothing to do with us). It is of course laptop work with poor ergonomy, but it is a happiness that we both have jobs we can somewhat do remotely and partially unbound by calendar.

The environment is lovely, though of course we only see small parts of it. The people are friendly, though of course they now keep a large distance. The food is fabulous, though of course the restaurants are now closed. The grocery stores' prices are reasonable (most things are cheaper compared to Finland), though of course there is an occasional shortage of toilet paper.

All in all, it seems 2020 is developing into a very fascinating research exchange year for me!

Anne Hietava (neé Heikkilä)
Process metallurgy research unit
University of Oulu

Viimeksi päivitetty: 6.4.2020