5 More Tips for Completing your PhD during COVID 19

5 More Tips for Completing your PhD during COVID 19

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?”. 

Emily Dowdeswell

Emily Dowdeswell

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.

You can find out more about Emily’s research at http://wels.open.ac.uk/rumpus or on Twitter https://twitter.com/intracommons 

Top 5 Tips for Completing your PhD during COVID 19

Top 5 Tips for Completing your PhD during COVID 19

The doctoral journey is well known for its highs and lows. For current students, that journey has been intensified by the uncertainty and challenges of COVID-19. As we all try to settle into the new normal, how can we best approach the upcoming academic year? PhD Student Emily Dowdeswell took a look for us – consulting both the internet and experienced academics to bring us this awesome list of tips.

Invest in Your Support System

Find a way to remind yourself you are not alone in the struggle. Support will look different for each of us. Some of us will need support with working, others will need support with relaxing. Many of us will need to be reminded of the simple joys of conversation.

Dr Donna Peach’s Online Writing Rooms bring students together to share support, knowledge and friendship for example. The twitter account @virtualnotviral offers support for doctoral students working in troubled times as well as regular Twitter chats. The EERA Emerging Researchers’ Group has a LinkedIn group to help you connect to other researchers around the globe.

Keep a Research Journal

You will be probably be doing a lot of thinking, evaluating and questioning this year. Value this confusion as a seed field for your journey. Develop an alternative space for jotting down your thinking. For some ideas on why and how to keep a research journal try Dr Anuja Cabraal’s post or Srivina Rao’s reasons for why you should always carry a notebook.

If you are collecting data this year then make time to review and think deeply about your theoretical framework, recommends Sharon Walker, an upcoming doctor at the University of Cambridge:

“Although my second year was tiring- I did an ethnography- my mind was less challenged conceptually than in the first, third and fourth year. On reflection, I would have used this ‘downtime’ to spread out the ‘work’ of thinking into the second year”.

Create!

Get in the habit of creating in multiple ways. Encourage yourself to connect and communicate with your world and chase joy in doing so – particularly when the going gets tough. 

Barbara Spicer, a first-year PhD student, gravitated towards creativity during lockdown: painting pebbles with her daughter, doing a jigsaw puzzle for the first time in years, baking beer bread and translating poetry.

“It was only when watching an episode of Grayson Perry’s Art Club that the reason became clear,” reveals Barbara, “we are all wounded, and art is very healing. The process, rather than the product, is most important. This mirrors my research project which takes a process-orientated approach to literary translation”.

Be open to inviting creative practice into your research approach. If you are interested in the conversations around scholarly creativity, have a look at this open-access article that investigates creative possibilities during your PhD.

Be Open and Responsive

Be open and responsive – to the people and environment you are researching with.

Third-year PhD student Petra Vackova explains that while it is important to be well prepared with your research design as you enter the field, it is just as important to be flexible and responsive to the people and environment you are researching with.

“I felt the pressure to start recording and capturing everything right away but managed to resist that urge in the end. I gave myself time to slow down, be attentive to relationships first and develop research deeply embedded in ethics of care,” says Petra, “there is an opportunity, during a PhD, to develop a slow, ethical, and response-able research process that has the potential to contribute to knowledge differently”.

Work and Fun are Happy Soulmates

Monitor how and when you have fun and make time to do so. For Karen Wong-Peréz, now a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment & Development, music helped sustain her mental health during the second year:

“For some reason, when I was stuck in writing or thinking, I started following YouTube tutorials on how to play music. So, I got a keyboard, then a guitar and a flute and it helped me a lot- maybe my brain needed that kind of artistic stimulus to keep balance”.

Research with adult learners suggests that having fun is motivating, enhances learning and helps build a socially connected learning environment.

“Fun is just another word for learning”, argues game designer Raph Koster. Be intentional about inviting fun into your research. If fun is about pushing at edges, approach your research as a cluster of edges that need to be tested. Invariably your own principles and foundations will be rocked too, get ready to frame that discomfort as part of the ride.

Reflecting on the shared experience between the incoming and preceding second years has been an enriching process, “in these uncertain times, we need each other more than ever”. Emily is thankful to the many friends and colleagues who shared their advice with her and to colleagues who have generously offered the resources referenced above.

Emily Dowdeswell

Emily Dowdeswell

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.

You can find out more about Emily’s research at http://wels.open.ac.uk/rumpus or on Twitter https://twitter.com/intracommons