I started my PhD three weeks before lockdown. I was fortunate to make the most of my time socialising and getting to know staff in my department. As I intended to work on site Monday to Friday, I have a desk allocated to me in the farmhouse (a building in Gibbet Hill Campus) and I made sure I had settled in seen as I would be spending A LOT of time here over the duration of my PhD. I introduced myself to everyone at the farmhouse and I was warmly welcomed. Being added to a group chat has been invaluable as there is always someone available for advice or ‘pick-me-ups’.
I am extremely fortunate to have incredible supervisors and when one was required to work full time on the front line, I had others swoop in to support me. It has been lovely to share ideas of the project and contribute new suggestions. Initially I had weekly meetings, but once I became engrossed in the work, the frequency varied depending on tasks I needed to complete. My supervisors are always available if I require any guidance, help or support. They have also taken a genuine interest in my wellbeing and want me to be open and honest if I am struggling as they know I am living alone. If they have not heard from me during a period when I have been completing tasks, they check in to see how things are going. It has been fun becoming accustomed to online meetings and great chance to try out all available options, especially as I may require these for conducting interviews.
I am also lucky to have Fran and Sean, our course administrators from WMS, keeping us informed of the current situation and also what is going on in WMS. They are always available to talk to, even if it is to see what they have been up to. As I am living on my own, I only really have my project to talk about, so I enjoy hearing what everyone else has been getting up to.
There have been a variety of events going on that you are able to participate in such as with the CTU meditation sessions, board games and quiz nights, a selection of fitness classes from Warwick Sport as well as online training courses and seminars.
You take ownership for your PhD by managing your own working hours, the order you complete tasks, when siesta time is etc. Obviously, this can vary as motivation and productivity can occasionally be low during lockdown. However, the freedom and independence to work when it is best for you, allows me to complete complex work earlier in the day, and saving admin for the afternoon when my energy starts to dip. You make a schedule to suit your life and your PhD. Apart from meetings, my time is my own and it is my responsibility to manage effectively.
Ultimately, the project is mine and I am the driving force behind it. There is some flexibility with the project plans, but if you can justify your decisions with sound reasoning and logic, then your supervisors will support you every step of the way. Although, be prepared for plans to change and not just because of a pandemic and having to adapt to a “new normal”!
There are numerous training courses available both internally and externally which my supervisors have encouraged me to undertake. There are also conferences to attend and present at, however, unfortunately covid-19 had other ideas, and these are on hold for now.
You become a valued member of the department and with peers. It is also invaluable to be able to share your despair over any problems, as no doubt you are not the first to experience them!
The best advice I have been given is write everything down! You might think at the time you’ll remember however, if you keep records throughout each stage of your project, this will make your life so much easier when you come to write them down rather than searching through sticky notes you have randomly left about the place.
This post was originally published on the Warwick Doctoral College website https://warwick.ac.uk/services/dc/pgrlockdown
Charly Southern is a first year doctoral researcher with Division of Health Sciences at Warwick Medical School and Warwick Clinical Trials Unit. Her research focuses on cardiac arrest survivors and exploring health outcomes that really matter to survivors.