Following the positive response we received after publishing Emily’s Top 5 Tips on coping with the COVID 19 pandemic while writing your PhD, we asked if she had any more advice to share. She dug deep and came up with five more ideas for you to keep your head while the world spins around you!
Break down your thesis into smaller, more manageable chunks
Break down your thesis into smaller, more manageable chunks that you can test out through conference, seminars, and blog posts. Engaging with others will help re-connect you with your community and will support the development of your ideas through feedback and conversation.
Your thesis is an opportunity to build your own community and collaborate with other students, early career researchers as well as your supervisors.
Ale Okada, an educational researcher at the Open University, suggests attending and participating in a variety of events.
If conferences and IRL talks are suspended, then look out for webinars and online conferences. As an example, the Johns Hopkins SNF Agora Institute has offered weekly webcasts on a wide variety of timely topics.
And of course, EERA offers a range of opportunities to gather feedback on your work, such as the Emerging Researchers’ Group and their LinkedIn community. The pandemic may have forced the cancellation of the European Conference for Educational Research in 2020, but the Reconnecting EERA online conference was a resounding success.
Be Patient with Yourself
Remind yourself learning is not linear and that all your emotions are expressions of your investment in your thesis.
“Set daily goals that are reasonable and keep you moving forward,” recommends Nadine Janes, Director of Undergraduate Nursing and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, “and find someone to hold you accountable to those goals”.
Shuxuan Zheng similarly underlines that “little things are what make big things happen, and keeping this in mind is necessary to collectively overcome the viral pandemic”.
Look After Your Body and Mind
Eat something healthy before midday every day. Drink water. And take yourself for a walk in the evening. The extensive social distancing adaptations mean fewer opportunities to be physically active. Studying from home can entrench the sedentary lifestyle fostered by long hours of writing, reading or editing.
This article from researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh, Sydney and Western Australia details some ways you can stay fit and active.
Developing an achievable routine that you can feel good about for your wellbeing is vital. Find out if there is a walking group at your university. Exchange healthy recipes with your peers.
If you aren’t managing your goal, then aim smaller. Being good to yourself includes setting yourself up to win.
Things Will go Wrong Again and Again
But the sun, too, will rise again, and that disaster might be the making of your PhD, or you, or a total disaster with no redeeming features and that’s ok too.
Reflecting on her experience, final year student Carolyn Cooke explains:
“The second year was the year where things changed the most – change of literature base, change of methodology too. These changes meant I had written much which I then felt wasn’t useful anymore but rather surprisingly (to me!) I have come back to a huge amount of it in the last couple of months when writing up as there were things I could develop. So, nothing (no writing, no exploring, no “tangents”) is wasted effort – it’s all part of the process!”.
For a wide range of ideas for how to adapt your project during the pandemic, this crowdsourced document initiated by Deborah Lupton is a great place to brainstorm.
Practice Identifying Yourself in Different Ways
Deborah Lupton recommends taking the time to listen to good quality radio programmes and podcasts, to read the newspaper and engage with others socially.
Finding your academic identity is part of the research journey so read broadly when you can and cultivate connections to your interests including those that cross your departmental or disciplinary boundaries.
“I recommend thinking ahead to say 5 to 10 years down the road and answering the following questions: what do I want my ‘academic identity’ to be? Which academic community do I belong to long term and what do I want to be known for within that community?”, shares Jaideep Prabhu, Jawaharlal Nehru professor of business and enterprise at the Judge Business School, Cambridge, “Once you have some clarity about that, then work backwards and ask yourself: what do I need to do now to get there?”.
2nd Year PhD Student
Emily Dowdeswell is approaching the end of her first year of doctoral research at the Open University’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS).
Her area of study includes the intersections between anthropology, the arts, creativity and education.
PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Katherine Langford, BSc (Hons), MBPsS, is a third-year
part-time PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). She is researching how secondary school students develop an understanding of especially tricky Physics topics including what intuitive theories, common problems, and misconceptions they have.