After enduring the effects of fire, storm and pestilence, Australian National University scientist Andrew Blakers wonders only half-jokingly when one of the horsemen of the apocalypse might gallop by.
Since late December, the renewable energy expert can count on one hand the number of times he and his colleagues and students have been able to work at their lab.
It has been an incredibly frustrating start to a new decade.
"First we had Christmas; then we had bushfire smoke and research was stopped at ANU," he says.
"Then came the hail storm which smashed all our roof-mounted fume ducts, so the labs were open for a day then shut again. And then they opened for three days and then shut again because COVID came.
"So we had the fire and the storm and then the pestilence. There will be a horseman riding by any time soon."
Like many researchers at the ANU, Professor Blakers is counting the cost of weeks of lost lab time caused by the succession of natural disasters, culminating in the COVID-19-driven campus shutdown.
He admits the closures have dealt a "modest hit" to his research, but insists the real damage is being caused elsewhere, and to others.
Kylie Walker, the chief executive officer of the Academy of Technology and Engineering, says many researchers have had to throw out samples and suspend plans for clinical trials, while the ANU admits that some lab animals, mainly mice, have had to be euthanised.
Professor Blakers fears particularly for those just embarking on their careers in research, especially PhD students and those undertaking their first or second post-doctoral research project.
"Older folk will hang in there because we are all tenured," he says. "For people in their 20s and 30s, if you lose a year, OK; if you lose several years, that's not very OK."
Yet that is the situation facing thousands of the nation's researchers.
Although labs across the ANU began reopening this week as part of the staged easing of restrictions, the institution has taken a big hit.
It is yet to provide a tally of its losses so far, but a spokesperson admitted the effects would be significant and long-lasting.
"The university will experience a reduction in revenue measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars, which will impact what we are able to do in the future," the spokesperson says.
Though the weeks of lockdown from disease, smoke and hail haven't helped, the real damage comes from the dive in international student numbers.
Like many other universities, the ANU has become reliant on the fees paid by aspiring scholars from China, India, Malaysia, Europe, Britain and many other parts of the world to help fund its operations, including research. International students contributed more than a quarter of average university operating revenue in 2018.
It paints a pretty dire picture in terms of a major kind of crack in that research infrastructure that is going to take many years to heal.Academy of Technology and Engineering chief executive Kylie Walker
In that year, universities collectively spent $12.16 billion on research and development, more than half ($6.8 billion) of which came from general revenue. The Commonwealth government tipped in $1.9 billion.
The pandemic has revealed reliance on international student fees to be the soft underbelly of the tertiary education sector.
A report presented to the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel estimates universities will lose between $3 billion and $4.6 billion in discretionary funding as a result of the decision to close the nation's borders.
Universities Australia, the sector's peak representative body, reckons 21,000 full-time equivalent jobs could be lost in the next six months as a result, including 7000 research positions - almost one in 10 of all university staff engaged in research.
Institutions including ANU have already begun warning that those employed on contracts may not have their positions renewed, including many in senior teaching positions.
It is understood the ANU is not considering any forced redundancies in 2020, but a spokesperson says the institution is still assessing its financial position. Universities do not have access to the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.
The blow of research job losses is expected to fall disproportionately on postgraduate students, who comprise 57 per cent of the university research and development workforce and are typically employed on a contract or casual basis, making their jobs particularly insecure.
Compounding the hit to research, international students make up a significant proportion of the university research workforce, including more than a third of PhD students.
According to the report presented by Dr Finkel, the border closures could mean that more than 9000 international students are unable to resume their research programs this year.
Ms Walker says early career researchers not only bring fresh ideas and perspectives to their fields, they provide much of the skilled technical work.
She warns losing many of them would deliver a "one-two hit" to the research system.
"It paints a pretty dire picture in terms of a major kind of crack in that research infrastructure that is going to take many years to heal," she says.
Ms Walker says that unless the government intervenes to significantly boost research funding, the financial black hole left by the collapse in overseas student numbers will devastate the research workforce and set back the development of knowledge and expertise, including the kind relied upon by the country in steering its path through the pandemic.
Professor Blakers warns the loss of early career researchers will have a profound and long-lasting effect.
"The closure of the labs is unfortunate but manageable," he says.
"But you take out one, two, three or four years worth of early-career researchers, and that sets back advancement of solar energy research by an equivalent amount."