PGRs At Home
Three PGRs share their experiences of lockdown and their strategies for working from home.
Michelle Mathieson, School of Natural Sciences & Psychology, talks about how she's keeping connected with other PGRs
Working remotely, away from our supervisors, our work spaces, our sophisticated labs and equipment, and our libraries, has been a shared experience faced by PGRs. For me, it’s had ups and downs, with productive days and days that haven’t been so productive! At the start of the lockdown, I attempted to get into a working routine. I set up my work space, and I even recruited a research assistant, my cat, Roxy. At the beginning, she did take frequent naps, however, Roxy soon proved to be a very valuable member of my research team! Thanks to modern technology, I have kept in contact with other PGRs, and with the aim to keep PGRs connected during lockdown in an informal way, I set up a PGR Facebook page. Check it out (Facebook: PGR Staying connected). Likewise, I have stayed in regular contact with my supervisor(s) via video conferencing and emails. This has been part of my routine since the lockdown, and has been really helpful. Besides recruiting my research assistant, another highlight is being able to go for walks throughout the day and taking breaks outside in the garden – real breaks are something I rarely do in the office! I will definitely be maintaining this habit when things go back to ‘normal’ – whatever that may be!
Like other PGRs, there’s been some negative impacts on my work, too, of course, namely, studies has been interrupted and delayed. I’ve attempted to use the time to read and write more instead, and to work with my supervisors to figure out how I might adapt studies to make them work remotely. On the bright side, I have been able to adapt one of my studies, meaning I can now recruit online and hold interviews via video conferencing - which has actually worked out well! On the whole, working remotely has some positive benefits, and although it’s been challenging at times, I’ve realised there are things we can do to make working remotely more manageable and less stressful. So, these are my concluding tips!
- Keep in contact with supervisors - Schedule meetings via Zoom, Microsoft teams etc. We need their support and advice now more than ever
- Stay socially active – As PGRs facing these challenging times together, we can offer each other support and encouragement, or just a friendly chat.
- Maintain a routine (with breaks)! - Whether this is 8 hours or 2, dedicate set hours and targets, this might be writing or reading, or replying to emails.
- Make the most of online resources. The University and the DA hold virtual workshops, writing days and webinars. Whatever stage we’re at, we’re still students and still learning, so definitely take up these helpful workshops while working remotely. This also helps with feeling part of the PGR community!
- Last, but by no means least, don’t be too hard on yourself! We are all trying to adapt to these unprecedented times, so if you’re not as productive as a typical day, don’t be hard on yourself.
Hannah Dalgleish, Astrophysics Research Institute, shares her experience of her viva being conducted via video link.
Over 30 PGRs' vivas have been held online since LJMU's campuses closed mid-March
At the time of writing, my viva was two weeks ago and it already feels like many moons have passed. I remember the fear in the hours before the viva very clearly, unable to eat or think straight. I felt entirely unprepared (I had done little more than re-read my introduction) and that everything I had ever known was no longer within reach of my brain. I tried desperately to distract myself, which I did by arranging three online meetings – one with each of my supervisors and the third with another academic in the department. They all reassured me as best they could and told me that I would be more than fine, although (of course) I wasn’t able to believe them. The best piece of advice I received was that I'm not supposed to know everything – if the examiners haven't asked a question that I couldn't answer, then they're the ones who have failed.
Before I knew it, the viva was over and it turns out that I did in fact know about my own research – and for the questions that I couldn't answer, I didn't worry because the examiners were doing their job. Most importantly of all: don't forget to celebrate afterwards! Also, if you come from a small town with a local paper, don't be afraid to reach out to them – they'd probably love to hear about your achievements. 😊
Richie Paul Carreon from School of Nursing & Allied Health tells us about his routine
I’m sitting here in a makeshift office in the spare room, my working space since the lockdown began. I situated the laptop facing the window, they say natural light is good for concentration, I’m sure it is the glaring sun that keeps me awake. My wooden desk is filled with a stack of library books, a place for my notepad and a potted white lily. They also said plants improve cognitive performance, I think they are just for aesthetics. We all need beauty in this madness. Nonetheless, another living organism in this room keeps me company. I have no space for my coffee mug, this is a good excuse to have a break from my desk, where I can stretch my legs to the kitchen and get a brew. A regular scheduled break of coffee necessity.
My weekday lockdown routine consists of alarm at 7am, then 45 minutes of exercise: either morning run or yoga, shower, get dressed and I report to my home office by half 9. Some days are more productive than others. I cannot avoid the distractions at home or what's going on in the world right now. But, I try hard. I try to fill my week with planned activities, like joining virtual write-ups organized by our Faculty PGRs or by the Doctoral Academy. I alternate writing with reading articles or attending webinars. Every day, I must ensure to do something PhD related. Sometimes, my emotions can be all over the place with low levels of motivation and inconsistent output. These and among other thoughts I share with my supervisors or I get to blether with other PGRs in our weekly virtual catch-ups. Our support group has been a lifesaver to combat this PhD seclusion. There is comfort knowing even we though are in social distance and in physical isolation, there is always someone to talk to from the other end, that we are not alone. Amongst all these, I keep reminding myself everyday: "No matter how you feel, get up, get dressed, show up at your desk and never give up! "
Many thanks to Michelle, Hannah and Paul for their contributions, more will follow. If you'd like to share your story, contact Jo McKeon firstname.lastname@example.org