And That’s OK

Doing a PhD is demanding at the best of times, let alone amidst a global pandemic. Zakiyya discusses why productivity should not be the priority for PhDs right now.

I just binge watched five episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. You just ate an entire tub of ice-cream. They just spent the whole of Monday afternoon unable to put down the latest page-turner. And that’s o.k.

Yes, these are all behaviours we might normally feel guilty about indulging in. But these are not normal times. Now is a time to be kind to yourself, and to accept that your detailed plans might need a bit of tweaking, in real time, depending on how you feel.

As PhDs we’re used to dealing with things not working out exactly as we’d hoped. We’re used to the disappointment and we’ve gotten good at motivating ourselves to get back on track. So, it can feel particularly jarring if you feel as though you’re not quite in control and if it’s a bit (read: a lot) harder to get that pep back in your step. You might be feeling all of these things right now, and (yeah, you know where this is going) that’s o.k.

It might seem like everyone on social media is getting fitter than ever, churning out articles/books/podcast episodes at an impossible rate, developing Michelin-worthy culinary skills and generally achieving all manner of impressive feats. And sure, that’s brilliant. But the most important thing to focus on during these unprecedented times isn’t productivity. It shouldn’t be. It’s totally fine to be amongst the millions of people across the globe who are slowing down rather than speeding up.


For PhDs it can often feel like we should be spending all of our spare time working on our research (or at least thinking about it). And now that we’re spending more time indoors with our laptops, it is natural to feel like we should be working almost all of the time. But we are more than PhDs, we are people: partners, friends, parents, siblings, carers. Complex beings with a myriad of emotions, challenges and responsibilities vying for our time and attention. And it’s crucial that we don’t neglect these other domains of our lives and their equally pressing needs.

Speak to your supervisor about your workload and apply for an extension if you need it. No-one is expecting you to be at your most productive right now. Accepting that meeting targets made months ago might be beyond your current capabilities allows you to move beyond guilt to a place of self-compassion. Yes, we do still need to get research done but we can make it work around the other aspects of our life, and we should prioritise our mental well-being. So yeah, I’ll watch back-to-back episodes of that show that makes me laugh, find occasional comfort in a tub of ice-cream and lose myself in a literary world of joy and ease in the middle of a busy workday… and that’s o.k.

What have you found to help you cope during the global pandemic? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

by Zakiyya

Zakiyya Adam is a final year PhD student at the Warwick Institute for the Science of Cities (WISC). Her research looks at commuting behaviours and subjective well-being. She worked as a civil engineering consultant for a few years before beginning her postgraduate journey. You can follow her on Twitter here: @AdamZakiyya

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