PhD life abroad in the time of Corona

How is it to be a PhD student at NTNU, working abroad during the corona situation? Carine Lausselet describes her new work days from home in Australia, month by month.

A picture of a woman working outside with a laptop.
Sometimes Carine likes to work from the porch of her house to have a change. Photo: Vincent and Carine Lausselet

This is a blog post. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.

Written by
a woman
Carine Lausselet PhD Candidate

Who am I?

I am Carine Lausselet from Switzerland. I started my PhD in the Industrial Ecology Programme at the Department of Energy and Process Engineering (EPT) in March 2017. I am now completing my last year of the PhD.

With a bachelor in Environmental Science and Engineering from the EPFL, I came to Norway in August 2008 to take my master’s at the Industrial Ecology programme at NTNU. I wrote my master thesis with a start-up from the programme, and got a job as a consultant there. In March 2014, I got the opportunity to come back to the programme as a researcher. This is when I realized that I thrive very much in the research community, and it was here I wanted to be in the coming years.

I am married and have three children. I like to spend time with my family and friends, and find it relaxing to enjoy a meal with good wine and nice company. Mountaineering, skiing and exploring new places are my main hobbies. Also, I like to knit with a cup of tea in front of the fireplace – it is a kind of meditation for me.

What do I do? 

A picture of a floating meeting room with a modern design.
Floating meeting room at UniMelb. Photo: Vincent and Carine Lausselet.

I am doing my PhD at the Research Centre on Zero Emission Neighbourhoods in Smart Cities (FME ZEN) on the development of a life-cycle assessment method to assess ZEN. Prof. Helge Brattebø is my main supervisor. I am currently visiting the University of Melbourne (UniMelb) with Associate Prof. Robert Crawford as guest supervisor. In short, I travelled here to learn more about a certain technique they are working with at UniMelb.

In the next paragraphs, I will tell you about our Corona journey here in Australia.

December 23: the Trans-Siberian

After having planned our trip carefully – we were ready! Ready to take the time to discover many countries on our way to Australia. In fact, we wanted to travel for most of our journey. We took the train to Stockholm, the boat to Helsinki, the train to St-Petersburg and then Moskva where we embarked on the Trans-Siberian – all the way to Beijing. I had always dreamt to take it – and this was in fact happening – with my family! We crossed China by train, then Vietnam where we changed to bus all the way to Bangkok. We stopped along the way to discover some places and enjoy the beaches in South Cambodia.

January 18: Arriving at Melbourne

Melbourne here we are! It was an intense period as we had many elements to put into place (house, schools, furniture, etc) but also very enjoyable as we were discovering a totally new place that would be our home for the next five months. But, I remember this evening when we watched the news and heard for the first time about this mysterious virus from China. China – one of the countries we had just crossed..!

A picture of the coast along the beach and promenade.
We live close from the beach, 10km away from the city center. Photo: Vincent and Carine Lausselet

February: Wearing school uniforms

After their second summer holidays – our kids started school – with uniforms this time! I also started my research at the university, where there was a lot of talk about the students coming from China who could not enter Australia anymore and would thus miss the semester start…again the virus…..

March: Should we come back earlier?

The number of new infections around the world was increasing at an exponential rate. Australia closed its borders – its school in the middle of March – and imposed the lockdown at the end of March. We had some discussion with NTNU whether we should come back earlier to Norway or not. We decided to stay in Australia as the health system is very good here as well. Also, the government was taking the right decisions and a possible return to Norway at this time was very uncertain since the flights were cancelled one after the other.

April: Lockdown

Full lockdown. We are happy we have a garden! If already we all have to go through these unprecedented times – then Australia is not the worst place 😊

A picture of three children creating colorful street art.
Our kids creating street art in our garden. Photo: Vincent and Carine Lausselet

May: Still lockdown..

Full lockdown – still – with some small first relaxation. Schools will open again on May 26 for the youngest and oldest kids, and on …. June 8 for all the others. Of course, we would have preferred the schools to open earlier, but are mainly happy that our kids will still go to “real schools” for some weeks before we go back to Europe on July 1st.


We are very happy we came here. We wanted to experience something new – as a family and for myself as a PhD candidate. I really wanted to know more about this technique the group I am visiting is working with. My supervisor and group were very welcoming. Of course, I would have liked to go to the university instead of working from home – but I still have good and regular contact with my supervisors here and in Norway – both very supportive. We did not visit too much of Australia – but discovering the local life and places were great as well.

The Corona times are not over yet – but it seems that the light at the end of tunnel is getting brighter 😊 The future will tell us how this whole Corona affair will end – but I believe we will all have learnt something out of it – and got more humble toward the future and our place on this planet – at the end of the day – we are all very small. Take care of each other!