PhDs During Lockdown

PhD researchers share how they’re making progress with their work despite restrictions posed by the lockdown.

For some, being forced to stay indoors and get some work done has worked out to be advantageous. But for others – with caring and/or childcare responsibilities, anxiety, disrupted research trips and halted field research – it’s difficult to get into the swing of things.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of inspiration and guidance within the PhD researcher community. From keeping that sense of community alive to making a routine around childcare, here are a few ways to keep things feeling ‘normal’ when it comes to your PhD work.

Virtual PhD Office

I’m aware that this suggestion might feel obvious to many of you, but the Arts and Humanities PhD cohort at the University of Stirling has scheduled daily ‘Writing Retreats’ via Microsoft Teams from 10am. We check in with each other for a quick chat then disconnect and get to work for 45 minutes before logging in for another chat afterward. It’s a nice, informal way to keep that sense of community and discover how we’re all getting through this. It feels like our hot-desk office is very much still in operation! Sometimes only one or two will join, on other days its all of us. I think the ‘informality’ is key to making this feel normal – like casually dropping in and out of the office for coffee, a library break, then putting those headphones on for a serious writing burst.

Keeping up with Engagement

Poppy Abbot from Edinburgh demonstrates that lockdown doesn’t mean engagement with your research has to stop. “I’m one of *those* people that started a podcast series during all this!” she explains. “It’s called Difficult Conversations and it’s on contraversial topics in sociology and feminism such as sex work, and makes links between COVID19 and sociology he first one is up on sex work – in the next couple of days, feminism and COVID19, and single mums and COVID19, will be published.” Starting a podcast, blog and/or video series about your research is a good way to make up some engagement from cancelled conferences and events. Catch up with Poppy’s podcast here. 

(If you’d like to learn more about Podcasting your PhD, there’s a fantastic post from SGSAH researchers here.)

Managing PhD work with other jobs and children

For those unable to head to their office or library, getting into a routine at home when you have other responsibilities is one of the main challenges. PhD researcher, secondary school teacher and mum Kirsty McRoberts (University of Glasgow) shares her advice:

“I’m trying to get into a routine here. 2 months until submission so I’m finishing things off (still so much to do). Now I’m working from home, managing my own kids as they attempt to learn online, and doing my thesis. So far, it’s going okay. We’re trying to be disciplined and are also taking plenty breaks. Keeping normal working hours is also helping.

“My daughter has to register online for every class during the day. I’m using her to help me manage my time. I tend to work when she’s in class and break when she does. I also use those breaks to organise my working day. For example periods 1 and 2, I worked on my thesis. Now I’m about to spend periods 3 and 4 making resources for my pupils.”

Dealing with Disrupted Research Trips

Sarah Thomson (University of Edinburgh) was a few months into her research trip in the States before being hurried home due to the pandemic. She’s kindly shared her experience and her hopes for the future once this is all over:

“I started a 6-month AHRC International Placement Scheme Fellowship at the Library of Congress in February. I’m in the 2nd year of my PhD, so during this trip I was also planning to visit all the other archives I need to use for my project, including the Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Gerald Ford Presidential Libraries, as well as the Hoover Institution at Stanford. It was a busy and carefully planned research trip, which promptly fell apart when all of the archives were abruptly closed until further notice..!

“I’m now back home while I figure out my next steps. It’s frustrating because I can’t access the collections I need to write the rest of my thesis, but I’m lucky that I still have some material from my research trip last year that I can work through, which should tide me over for a couple of months. If I still can’t get back to the US any time soon, then I’m hopeful that reading room staff at some of the libraries could potentially digitise some material for me. If anyone else finds themselves in a similar situation, asking for help has been key. My supervisors and the staff at the respective libraries (and the AHRC IPS) have all been fantastic. It’s been frustrating, but I know the archives will still be there in 6 months when things have settled down!”

Would you like to write a 300-word blog post for us? Get in touch with chiara.bullen@glasgow.ac.uk with your idea!

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