Covid, Coding, and Quarantine

Blog post by Ekaterina Balsan

My first days in the CCC lab felt like an escape from the bustling traffic of the city, from the sirens and trains; a small oasis in the midst of the concrete jungle. As of late, there is no bustling New York City.  Live streams from Times Square show empty sidewalks.  Once the hum of rush hour traffic, now the empty silence of isolation.

The past few weeks have brought so many memories of my summer work. I recall arriving at the zoo early in the mornings, before the crowds of visitors come.  I remember the bright green trees swaying in the wind, with the leaves spreading shade across the ground. Setting up my camera, the Thick Billed parrots would look at me with curiosity, their eyes searching mine for a clue as to what I was doing.  The vultures, equally curious, would look right at me as if asking who I was.  I often miss my days there and the company of the birds. Completing my field work involved long days at my local zoo, observing and recording the Thick Billed parrots.  While my time there has ended for my project, the work most definitely has not.

Analyzing the videos and extracting my raw data means coding.  Recording certain behaviors to later calculate their frequencies and trends.  As this is my first attempt at coding, I have spent a large portion of my quarantine time exploring the software and understanding the technological side of our research.  I find myself repeating these videos again and again, to precisely register the time and behavior the parrots are carrying out. This new experience has allowed me to be meticulous, careful to process the information, but at the same time given me a new mission in this stay at home life.

Coding has provided an escape. While I am not at the lab, or at my school, I am no longer in my room. I am back at the zoo, outside in the warm weather surrounded by my feathered friends.  The thick billed parrots are an imaginative reality show, open to your own interpretation.  Their curious expressions are now the same as mine, as I record their behaviors, my mind is racing with possible implications and explanations. Observing them again makes me feel as though I am back in the summer, before these recent events turned our world upside down.  I can not help but smile as I watch them.

If anything, I have learned that research never stops.  Inquiry and discovery are all constant, perhaps one could contend the only constant in our lives today. The ability for me to continue my research at home is something I am truly thankful for.

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Dr. Joshua Plotnik
Department of Psychology
Hunter College, the City University of New York

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