WFH - a day in the life of two of our curators

Ruth’s day

Thursday morning - the second ‘proper’ working day of the week for me as I work part-time. I have two sons, one aged 7 and the other aged 4, neither of whom have anywhere to go currently during my working week. At least I don’t have to worry about the traffic or wrestling my preschooler into the car before starting work. I find breakfast time a good time to start working. Unlike many, my children aren’t that energetic first thing and are fairly happy with a quiet start to the day which means I can hang out in the kitchen with my coffee and bagel and get some work done. During the early morning shift, I’ll catch up with any emails and then work on something that I can be distracted from without it all falling apart, such as naming of pseudogenes or annotated non-coding RNAs that have no associated publications. My husband, who also works in bioinformatics, gets the first ‘concentrating shift’ upstairs at our office, which is currently a desk underneath our 7-year-old’s cabin bed.

At 9am, we start the homeschooling process. This often involves physically lifting the 7-year-old into his chair to start work. Our school provides a comprehensive work pack with links to mini lessons they film and put on YouTube. I feel I spend a decent proportion of my life saying ‘use a capital letter and a full stop’! Today we have to practise using the suffix ‘er’; count from 1-10 in Spanish (we are good up to seis, we are not quite making it to diez yet); learn about using subheadings; explain why a character in a story doesn’t want to clean up dog vomit (!); revise the 3, 5, 2, 4, 6 and 10 times tables; and find a quarter of things. In order to help the 7-year-old concentrate, I also try to set the preschooler to tasks, although he is fairly resistant. This morning I have a superhero that I thought he would enjoy colouring in but he refuses until I draw on a cape on it. We do a bit of practising name writing too. At the same time, I’m communicating with colleagues on Slack and filling in the odd bit of work where possible.

10.30 - it’s my turn for the ‘concentrating shift’ at the office upstairs. As it’s Thursday it’s curator meeting time and it’s nice to see everyone on Zoom. Towards the end of the meeting we have a technical difficulty and all assume it’s our own internet connections but it turns out to actually be a problem with the work network. We break for lunch with a plan to continue the meeting at 2.

I go downstairs to lunch already underway. I look at my phone and there is a message from our schoolteacher; she tried to call for her biweekly catch up chat with the 7-year-old during the curator meeting. I put my phone in my pocket so I won’t miss a second call. My husband has been teaching the kids a bit of pre-history. The kids made their own version of Stonehenge using Jenga pieces and Playmobil:

Just as we’ve finished lunch, the teacher phones back. My son tells her a LOT about prehistory and fossil hunting in a fast stream of consciousness that only kids of that age have. Then we have some outside time in the garden where we chase each other around.

2pm - it’s still my husband’s ‘concentrating time’ but due to the earlier technical difficulties we are resuming our curator meeting. I put my kids in front of Pee-Wee Herman (still with their prehistorical scenes out to play with). Luckily, they are ready for some quiet time and I’m able to concentrate on the meeting.

Meeting over, I grab a cup of tea. Then I’ve arranged a 1-1 call with my HGNC colleague Susan to discuss making sure the way we treat our genes with the locus type ‘unknown’ is consistent. It’s my ‘concentrating shift’ again so I can do this undisturbed upstairs (except for one time when the 7-year-old runs into the room to tell me that they have spotted frogs in the garden). We get some useful stuff done with a plan to meet again in the future to carry the discussion on. I do a bit of follow-up work afterwards then it’s the end of the working day. The sun has come out, so I head out into the garden to chase the kids around a bit again before the evening meal.

Susan’s day

My Thursday starts 300 miles north of the rest of the team in the Scottish Borders with a dog walk round the local glen. I moved here 4 years ago so that I could be closer to my elderly mother – I typically spend a week with the team in Hinxton every month or so and work from home the rest of the time. So, lockdown life is closer to normal for me and I was lucky to already have everything I needed in place to WFH.

I start work as usual by checking emails and slack messages over breakfast. One upside of everyone being out of the office is that things tend to get written down more and I don’t miss out on things that were discussed in the office when I wasn’t there - important stuff and trivia! I continue with some work on our VGNC project naming genes in selected vertebrate species that lack a nomenclature committee – we have a list of likely 1:1 orthologs to name and I usually try to do at least a few every day. Today Rufus the labradoodle puppy supervises the naming of a few dog genes before I head upstairs to my office.

Thursday is our curator meeting so I spend time reviewing agenda items before we start our 5 way zoom call at 10:30. We use a fair bit of today’s call discussing a tricky situation where several groups working on the same gene cannot agree on a gene name and symbol and competing nomenclature has already been published. These cases are always a challenge for us and can largely be prevented by all authors contacting us ahead of publication of novel symbols and journals ensuring use of approved nomenclature.

Lunchtime brings a call from my mother’s doctor. She is becoming increasingly frail and confused - limited contact with friends and family due to COVID-19 isn’t helping. We all have particular challenges balancing work and home life and these are amplified by the current situation. Fortunately, my husband likes to cook so I don’t have to worry about preparing lunch (or dinner) – all the more time for gene naming.

Ruth and I had a call together in the afternoon – 1-to-1 calls work well and we made good progress with a list of genes with inconsistently annotated biotypes, which we usually tag with the locus type “unknown”. Afterwards I make some of the edits we agreed on whilst keeping an eye on Rufus. The pup’s not to be trusted - he stole my glasses yesterday – fortunately no damage done (on this occasion). He’s restless so we head into the garden for a quick game of ‘fetch’ (I throw the ball and he runs off with it) and then back inside to see the other curators are wrestling with the formatting of our revised Nomenclature Guidelines paper - due out in Nature Genetics soon! I archive some correspondence which brings my working week to an end as I spend Fridays in Edinburgh checking on my mum and shopping for her. However, I’ll pop onto Slack when I get home to join in with the weekly lockdown quiz where we have some friendly rivalry with the Gencode annotators. Team events like this brighten what can be difficult times – WFH is getting the work done ok but we are all looking forward to seeing each other in real life.