Do you feel that COVID-19 is affecting your PhD life? Do you feel the need to adjust to the current crisis? If the answer to both questions is yes, then this blog post is for you.
On Wednesday, I left the university at 6 pm. At that time, I still thought that COVID-19 was far away from the UK so that I would be returning to campus soon
Suddenly, the next day, news about the virus was getting intense. The number of cases in the UK had increased. As I commute on public transport from Birmingham to get to campus, it’s difficult to control my exposure to the virus. I decided to stay at home that day. Thus, the 11th of March ended up being the last day I went to campus.
During the first few days at home, I kept thinking about my thesis and submission deadline. I started panicking, with so many ‘what ifs’ in my head. I was thinking about the impossibility of writing at home. My eyes prefer the larger screens we have in the library. Not only that, but my laptop has limited features for thesis writing and I need a conducive working environment.
But thinking too much about my thesis and deadlines didn’t help. Worrying about my thesis in this scenario kept me from thinking clearly about the current situation and understand that these are unprecedented times. It seems that a regime of productivity has shaped my mindset and became my first priority, making me unable to connect to what is happening out there. To top it all off, staying at home for a long time goes against my own idea of productivity.
I decided to send an email to my supervisor. I explained that I was afraid the crisis would negatively affect the progress of my thesis writing. Her reply made me realise that my priority right now is my safety.
I decided to stop thinking about the thesis for a while. I contacted my family in Indonesia. I kept myself busy with all the domestic things here with my little family in the UK.
My acceptance of the different working conditions at home has made me feel better. I am no longer worrying about the progress of thesis writing at home. Indeed, the quality and quantity of the work has been different compared to the things that I produced in the library. I began to accept that the most important thing is I write a bit of the chapter every day—no need for it to be excellent.
Even the sounds of the keyboard on my laptop started to make me happy.
Reflecting on my PhD journey, I realised that working around overachievers was quite stressful. I try not to compare myself with anyone else. Yet, during my working hours at the library, sometimes I look at the people around me. They tend to look busy with their laptops or computers, typing something and looking like they are extremely productive. All the while I was struggling to write a sentence or the first paragraph for many hours, it is difficult not to compare myself within such a real physical environment.
Have I produced an excellent publication? How about my research impact? Is my thesis good enough for the level of a final year PhD student? Am I good enough to stay in this academic environment?
Such questions led me to distance myself from people around me. I was afraid to talk to others about my research.
The current pandemic reminds me that, after all, we are human. We share a similar level of vulnerability.
By staying at home for a long time, I started to reflect upon myself beyond my role as a PhD student. I realised that my existential crisis during my PhD is nothing compared to our existential crisis in the current times. A PhD is not a contagious and deadly virus, so why should I be afraid? Why has my PhD made me breathless? Is it possible to do a PhD and be happy at the same time?
Please be safe, everyone.
Asep Darmini is a final year PhD student at the Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies, University of Warwick. His doctoral research aims to analyse the issue of internet and the public sphere in the Indonesian Islamic Boarding School. He is a PhD scholar of the Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education. At some occasion, he tweets in English and Indonesian through his account @asepmuiz