Three more PGRs share their experiences of lockdown and working from home.
Johanna Ender, School of Engineering, tells us about Franka and reaches out to the rest of LJMU’s research community.
Hello to all of you brave PGRs and LJMU staff.
I am lucky to have a cosy place to work under the stairs (with some kind of nice Harry Potter feeling) within an apartment located in Wismar, Germany, Baltic Coast. Here, I am able to push forward my writing for the PhD-thesis about Human-Robot Collaboration.
I am investigating, very roughly abstracted, a design strategy to free robots from their cages and, here I am in this special situation and feeling caged myself sometimes. But also If I absolutely miss working with my joint-arm robot, her name is Franka, I find myself luckily within a supporting environment.
Online seminars offered by the university and affiliated organisations are helping a lot to stay focused and happy minded (!) through this situation. Particularly, the Writing Afternoons and Writing Days are making me feel productive and it's so perfectly nice to see familiar faces, getting to know new people with passion about their research, exchanging ideas and having some fun within the little breaks while having a good cup of tea. So precious! A great thanks to all of the LJMU staff members who are supporting us PGRs, especially supporting to overcome that unforeseen obstacle and a lovely greeting to all of you brave PGRs - after we will have completed our study, we will be extra proud and we will celebrate to got through this time, together.
If someone is also working with robots, Human-Machine Interaction or just excited to exchange ideas - please connect via LinkedIn, ResearchGate, etc.
Zoe Swithenbeck, Public Health Institute, speaks about doing a PhD during COVID19, the challenges and opportunities.
Like everyone else, I had many ideas about what doing a PhD would be like. None of them included a pandemic. I’m in my second year, and was mid way through data collection when lockdown started. I’m researching smoking interventions in drug and alcohol treatment services, and a central aspect of my project is (or was) co-production with people with lived experience. Of course, my face to face research came to a grinding halt.
The first few weeks of lockdown were tough. I live alone, and am usually so busy with various things that I rarely spend much time at home. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and the fact that my PhD was now so uncertain didn’t help. I considered giving up altogether, or taking some time off. I didn’t feel that the work was worth doing if it couldn’t be what I had envisioned. Luckily for me, my supervisors are brilliant. My DoS kept in regular contact, talking me down when I wanted to give up and helping me reshape the project into something I’m excited about doing. I’m still facing challenges, trying to adapt to a new way of working and the frustrations of navigating changing rules and regulations. I’ve had to accept that this has put my project months behind schedule, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I know a lot of people took advantage of lockdown by working hard and learning new skills. For me, it was more about getting through it with my sanity relatively intact. I tried to keep to a routine, getting up in the morning and doing some work. It wasn’t always easy. One thing that really helped has been the support from other PGRs. Our department (PHI) has held monthly lunchtime get togethers for a while now, so we moved them to weekly online sessions early on. This has been invaluable, from sharing tips and advice on research, to venting about lack of motivation or boredom. It’s been a definite highlight of a pretty dark time for me, and I’ve made some new friends and developed existing friendships. If we take one thing from this situation, I hope it’s the sense of community and support that has developed.
On reflection, it’s made me re-evaluate what’s important. Previously, I’d say yes to any opportunity, without really thinking if I had the time or energy to pursue it. Now I’ve realised how important it is to maintain a work life balance, even if that looks a little different for a PhD student than other people! Now that restrictions have eased, I’ve been making more effort to get out and enjoy my local area. It’s been an opportunity to rediscover places I haven’t visited in years, and get out in the fresh air with friends, which has been wonderful!
Laura Sheehy, School of Biological and Earth Sciences, shares her story including being invited back to campus
Suffice to say the start of my PhD has not gone as I imagined it would…
I started in February, the first few weeks were a blur of training sessions, forms and meeting new people. The focus of my project is on whole genome sequencing of parasitic nematode species that are currently used as biological controls. After completing all the training sessions and inductions I was ready to get my first experiment up and running!
But we all know what happened next… lockdown. Just six weeks after starting the university shut down as the country entered lockdown due to COVID-19. So, what do I do now? I did not account for a global pandemic in my plan.
Since lab work was not an option, I threw myself into the literature. I was new to nematology so actually having that time to sit and read was helpful. To make the most of this time away from the lab I joined quite a few training webinars. I found these sessions offered a much-needed break from the constant reading, I discovered you can only read so many papers in one day before you hit a wall.
During lockdown getting into a routine was the most helpful thing to do, keeping to a standard working day really helped differentiate work from home. I created a structured day, starting at 8am and ending at 4pm with plenty of regular breaks to avoid sitting at my desk all day long. I enjoyed setting up virtual tea breaks with friends who were also working from home at the time. I will admit some days were not as productive as others, but I did not beat myself up about this, I just did what I could each day.
Similar for many people, hobbies became a big part of coping with lockdown. For me this meant expanding my already large houseplant collection to what can now only be described as an indoor jungle. The restricted access to the outside world inspired me to bring the outside in. Slowly I turned my home office into a little green oasis. When I hit a mental block I would take some time to check my jungle as something always needed to be done. This time out focusing on a new task separate to my PhD work usually reset my mind and removed the mental block.
Lockdown went relatively easy for me but after four months I did start to worry about whether I would be able to do everything I had proposed for my PhD. I still had not generated any data, but then the email I had been waiting for arrived! The University labs were re-opening. There were many documents to read, forms to fill in and an induction to complete before I could enter the labs. I was equally excited and nervous; it was like my first day all over again. I was not sure what to expect.
It was very strange; the University as it was so quiet! But it was easy adapt to the new COVID-19 regulations such as signing in each day, booking lab access, and following room occupancy limitations. The return to labs was not difficult, just a bit different. I am delighted to be back in the lab, finally setting up that first experiment I planned nearly five months ago, I cannot wait for my initial data set to be generated. The first six months of my PhD did not go as expected, but I made the best of it given the circumstances.
Many thanks to Johanna, Zoe and Laura for their contributions. We'd like to hear from PGRs about their experiences. Are you back on campus? What are your thoughts as we start a new academic year? If you'd like to share your story, contact Jo McKeon firstname.lastname@example.org