Covid Chronicles (Audio & Blog) : Adam Williams from Cardiff University shares his lockdown experiences

Covid Chronicles is a series of stories from KESS 2 participants in reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here is a blog post and audio recording by Adam Williams from Cardiff University:

When written in Chinese, the term ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger the other represents opportunity.

While the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has been a personal challenge and struggle, for my PhD and career as a researcher, it has opened many doors. Something I doubt many other PhD students would agree with. Here is my crazy journey so far:

A week before the national lockdown in March 2020, the danger loomed on the horizon. My interview study was prevented from collecting participants and there were delays in ethics for a quantitative project. It wasn’t looking good! However this was my first hurdle to jump. While data collection was delayed I decided to use this time to do some reading and writing. I completed first drafts of two methodology sections and a slightly longer than required interim report (7000 words, oops!). Staying relatively positive, but getting bored of writing, I was glad when the new wave of work appeared.

First, my supervisors and I agreed I could create a survey study. One of my projects uses secondary data provided by Public Health Wales on STI rates across Wales. Due to the pandemic, this data would not be provided to me until after the lockdown period. During this time there was likely to be a dramatic change in the rates of STIs, both due to the volume of testing and because of changes in human behaviour. To identify what was going on, a survey was created to examine these factors. This study had an added issue of time constraint, not knowing when or how the national lockdown would end. This placed me in a situation of needing to complete data collection rapidly. Amazingly, within 5 months, I had gone from starting my ethics application to having completed data collection – a research speed I will likely never experience again. In future job interviews, if I am asked how well I work to short deadlines, I have a great example.

Next, the interview phase of my study could begin with the caveat that the interviews themselves would be conducted online. Looking back, I believe this provided me a great advantage as I was able to remotely extend the reach of interviews across the whole of Wales and improve the conversation on more sensitive questions, something which would not have been achievable were I to conduct the interviews in person.

Covid-19 resulted in the creation of a survey study, improvements to existing studies and lots of writing. But it also provided opportunities in other areas. While working on my survey I was able to conduct a research project for Fast Track Cities Cardiff, an initiative developed by the UNAIDS aimed at ending HIV transmission by 2030. Lockdown prevented their community consultation which was designed to help identify the experiences and needs of those using sexual health services in Cardiff. Alternatively they decided to use an online survey and, as I was developing my own survey at the time, I took on this project for them. The opportunity then expanded to me writing the report of findings, which is to be distributed to Welsh Government officials and the general public.

From this fantastic opportunity with Fast Track Cities Cardiff I have experienced how research is conducted outside of academia and learned how to write for public dissemination.  Surprisingly, the opportunities did not end there. I became co-author in a journal article about the early impact of social distancing measures on reported sexual behaviour of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis users in Wales. I also contributed to Epigeum’s Supervising Doctoral Studies programme, where I was interviewed about my experience of doctoral writing and receiving effective feedback to be included in the course. Even writing this blog is an opportunity I would not have had were it not for the pandemic.

My experience during these unprecedented times has shown me that there is opportunity even in the most unlikely of situations. Due to the nature of my project I was able to adapt and continue my research where many others could not. And whilst I understand the opportunities I have received are invaluable, I could not say it has been easy. The isolation of living and researching alone, coupled with feelings of having no control over the situation, were unbearable at times, but diving into my work got me through it. And what I consider one of my greatest opportunities also provided a sense of pride as I got to contribute towards work centred on the eradication of HIV, a disease estimated to have claimed the lives of 33 million people to date. Looking back, I never would have thought so many new experiences would arise from a worldwide crisis, but it has taught me to always seek the opportunity even when times seem dire.

Researcher Profile

Adam Williams
School of Medicine, Cardiff University
Academic Discipline: Population Medicine

Adam is currently completing his PhD research in the School of Medicine, situated within the Centre for Trials Research in Cardiff University. He received a MSc Health Psychology from the University of Bath and from this gained an interest in health behaviour and public health. His current research aims to understand the impact that HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP, a medication for preventing HIV) has on rates of sexually transmitted infections and antibiotic resistance among gay and bisexual men in Wales.

Clinically, he is interested in exploring behaviours related to the spread of infectious diseases, how to combat these, and ending the transmission of certain infections such as HIV. Methodologically, he considers himself a mixed methods researcher with interest in using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to triangulate results, producing a comprehensive understanding of topics.