Frank Wilczek, USA: "In many ways it´s been positive for my research"


Helen Frowe, UK: "Going to the supermarket seems like a distant dream"


Seren Selvin Korkmaz: “I had to reorganize all methodology”


Frank Wilczek at home outside his new house
Frank Wilczek at home outside his new house.


Frank Wilczek: "In many ways it´s been positive for my research"

Frank Wilczek, Professor of theoretical physics and 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics, normally shares his time between different places in the world. At Stockholm University he is Professor at the Department of Physics, as he is at his main workplace Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT.

How has the pandemic affected your work situation and research?

"In many ways it´s been positive for my research. There are always side-effects with moving from one place to another, and those are gone. Addition by subtractions. I’ve still been able to keep up collaborations online and I have regular meetings with my research groups in Stockholm.

I do miss human contacts though. My contacts with students in Stockholm wasn’t very large, but I enjoyed it. I teach special courses at MIT, this year a series of lectures to get freshmen interested in physics and we do everything online. But interactions with students are not the same. You see the gallery of faces, but is not the human way."

What are you working on right now?

"I finished writing a book last spring, which I was very pleased with. Recently I’ve been doing events to promote the book. More than everything else I’ve done this book is made for the general public and I hope it will reach a big audience.

But my centre is always research, I have several projects. The one that has most momentum is a big collaboration helping experimenters and engineers design antennas that would be able to detect axions, a hypothetical elementary particle and possible component of dark matter. We have very definite ideas about what it is, so if we see it, we’ll know it. We have reached the stage of building prototypes, and I hope we will have a result in 5-10 years. If successful it would be one of the greatest discoveries ever, so say we have 25 percent’s chance of making it in 10 years, that is still pretty good.

The frontier of what I’m thinking about is hard to describe briefly. In quantum mechanics, the treatment of time is very rigid, so it’s difficult to incorporate with a more flexible notion of time, such as we use in the theory of general relativity. I’m thinking about how to make time more flexible. This is also relevant in the design of quantum computers."

How is everyday life compared to normal?

"Campus at MIT is deserted and I haven’t been there since March. You have to schedule a certain limited time to go to your office, and I haven’t felt the need. I normally spend two segments in Stockholm each year, for about ten weeks at a time. We have an apartment in Östermalm. But now I haven’t been there since December 2019.

We just moved to a new house here in Massachusetts, which was very fortunate. Concord is a small town with a short walk to the forest. It’s a very attractive place, where Thoreau was based and was inspired by nature. My wife has done a fantastic job with the house and garden. I have also been able to have regular routines, eating well, exercising and lost 20 pounds so I feel in really good shape."


Helen Frowe on Zoom from Cambridge
Helen Frowe on Zoom from Cambridge


Helen Frowe: "Going to the supermarket seems like a distant dream"

Helen Frowe is Professor of Practical Philosophy and Knut and Alice Wallenberg Scholar at Stockholm University. She is also Director at the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace. She lives in Cambridge, UK and normally travels a lot.

How has the pandemic affected your work situation and research?

"I have more time, so in some sense it’s been good. I’m lucky my job is research-only, so I have not been faced with having to deliver teaching online. I normally go to Stockholm to meet with my PhD students and postdocs, but meeting online is doable.

As I normally work from home, I thought I was used to doing this, but then you realise how much as an academic you rely on the community, collaboration and conversation. I normally travel a lot to conferences and workshops. To go from that level of activity to nothing is a big change. It is really sad that so many events are cancelled.

Once I realized this wasn’t a short-term problem, my research centre set up a regular online workshop with other researchers, where we circulate our work in progress, and also discuss small problems we would normally talk about over coffee. We also set up an online reading group, and will run our annual graduate workshop online."

What is your research about at the moment?

"I work on moral and political philosophy, specialising in the ethics of war. My current research focuses on the nature of our duties to rescue, with a particular interest in how these duties ought to inform our treatment of refugees and other immigrants."

How is everyday life compared to normal?

"In general, it’s freed up a lot of time, not only because of not travelling but simply because there’s not much to do. The restrictions in the UK are strict, and I live with my mum who has an underlying condition. I moved in with her in the beginning of the pandemic because she was very ill and needed looking after. We self-isolated completely for months, then things eased up during the summer. But since September we haven’t really left the house. It got really bad here with the new variant of the virus during December. We only leave the house to go for a walk, nothing else. Going to the supermarket seems like a distant dream.

During the weekend, I take a walk, read a book, do some cooking. It’s not very different from any other day which means I’m not getting a sense of having a break from work. But a few years ago, I got very strict with myself about not working weekends. It’s tempting when my research goes well and sometimes I do go up early during the weekend to write. But generally I try to make sure I take time off.

It’s a long tunnel, but we see the light at the end now that we are vaccinating. I cross my fingers I’ll be able to come to Stockholm by September. I miss it!"


Seren Selvin Korkmaz via Zoom från Istanbul
Seren Selvin Korkmaz on Zoom from Istanbul


Seren Selvin Korkmaz: “I had to reorganize all methodology”

Seren Selvin Korkmaz is pursuing her PhD degree in the Department of Asian, Middle Eastern and Turkish Studies. She is also co-founder and executive director of the think tank İstanbul Political Research Institute (IstanPol). She normally travels a lot between Stockholm and Istanbul, but got stuck in Turkey in the beginning of the pandemic.

How has the pandemic affected your work situation and research?

“In February 2020, I went to Istanbul to present my research at a conference and to speak at a Turkish university. After that everything happened so quickly, there was a big chaos and you couldn’t foresee anything. I had a flight, but I decided to wait since I have asthma and was afraid to fly due to the spread of the infection. The day after, all flights were cancelled until June, and Turkey went into lockdown. In June, my Swedish residence permit had expired. Even though I had applied for a new on in April I couldn’t get it until November. Then I got infected with COVID-19, it was a bad experience. Now I’m recovering and planning on returning to Stockholm later this semester.

I’ve been stuck here, I’ve had health problems, I’ve lost relatives. It’s hard to focus on your research with so many problems taking your time and attention. There have also been a lot of issues related to the research. I had a plan, which was doing field research, but I had to reorganize all methodology and change my research questions. I’m at least one year behind.

Working at Stockholm University from Istanbul is manageable. We are doing everything online, and my department is so helpful. The university and my colleagues have really supported me. I teach on migration and minorities in the middle east. Teaching online takes time but it’s ok.”

What is your research about?

“My research is on the role of the opposition in the autocratization of Turkey. I was planning on doing interviews to gather voices from members of different political parties on a local level, on how they interpret the situation. But I had to rethink and turn it into a discourse analysis. In part because I couldn’t arrange focus groups, and also because it is a very sensitive topic not suitable for interviews online.”

How is everyday life where you are compared to normal?

“Istanbul is a very crowded city and the infection rate has been high. You are not allowed to leave your home on evenings and weekends. During the weekdays I’m working, so it’s difficult to find time to exercise outside. Everything is closed and we cannot see our friends.

I have colleagues and contacts that work at universities here in Istanbul. Everything is done online, but the technological structure isn’t as developed in Turkey as in Sweden, so from what I’ve heard it’s difficult to adjust to online teaching. Especially because of inequalities, some students have difficulty to access internet and do not have laptops.

COVID-19 shows us the importance of self-sustainability and spending time at home and with our family, in comparison to rush hours in our ordinary life."