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Work in the time of coronavirus: ‘I hope that conferences will continue to be online and free’

How are you doing in these strange and unprecedented times? That is the question we are asking our colleagues in this series. Criminologist Meike de Boer, for instance, a PhD candidate in forensic speech research at Leiden University Centre for Linguistics.

‘During the first lockdown I put off certain tasks. I wanted to do the nicer once first and save the more repetitive ones for when everything was back to normal again. I consoled myself by doing what I felt like doing most. Now I’ve accepted that the situation will remain the same for the foreseeable future and realise that I may have to do all my research from home. So I now start the day with the least appealing jobs and save the best ones till last.’

‘I do research into the effect of multilingualism on forensic speech comparisons. In other words: if you make two recordings of the same speaker in two different languages, are there elements that reveal that this is the same speaker? That is relevant if the police find recordings in different languages and want to link these to a suspect.’

Meike de Boer (28) 

  • PhD candidate doing forensic speech research at Leiden University Centre for Linguistics.  
  • Lives with her boyfriend on the Merenwijk housing development in Leiden. 
  • Has been working from home since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Alternates between sitting on a balance chair and standing on a trampoline, for an active posture. 
  • Essential: a smoothie packed with fruit and veg to start the day. ‘Even if I don’t do anything else that day, I wouldn’t be without my smoothie.’
  • Misses most: working with people from the same field. ‘I want to share my successes or failures without first having to explain the context.’ 


‘In light of the pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis, my research may not always seem that relevant. This made it hard to stay motivated in the beginning in particular. What has kept me going has been doing voluntary work alongside my regular work. This has been for organisations that I find important, such as one that supports ex-offenders, and I’m also an active member of the Party for the Animals. This makes me feel useful. And the work is with likeminded people, whereas my research is often a fairly solitary activity. My tip would therefore be: stay in touch with others and do what is important to you.’ 

Meike de Boer working from home
Meike de Boer working from home

Functional breaks = more time

‘My boyfriend and I try to go for a lunchtime walk every day. We discuss the morning and any problems that we’re facing. We’re more likely to do the food shopping then too, so we can start cooking as soon as we finish work. That’s a huge advantage of working from home: by taking functional breaks and doing chores or getting some exercise, I have more time to properly relax in the evening. I also have more time to write, for my blog, Lingua Forensica, for instance.’ 

Taking up the violin again 

‘While visiting a colleague I saw she had a piano with sheet music open at it. That reminded me of when I was younger and still lived my parents. There was always someone playing an instrument. You could hear the sound of a flute, violin or piano on a daily basis in our house. I realised that I missed that: my current home lacks creativity. So I decided to take up the violin again having not played for years. I now have a violin lesson every week and practise every day after work. That’s how I herald the end of work each day.’

Meike de Boer on her trampoline



New forms of knowledge sharing

‘Many people have become more aware of the climate crisis in this period. In academia people are wondering whether it is acceptable for us to travel to conferences all round the world. Not only do these trips cause pollution, but they also exclude academics who don’t have a grant or private funds. Although I definitely miss the personal contact with my peers, this time has given us so many different ways to share knowledge that I can’t imagine us fully returning to how it was. I hope that meetings will be held more locally and that lots of conferences and symposia will continue to be online and free.’ 
Text: Rianne Lindhout
Photos: Lotte van Uittert 

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