Starting my PhD in a pandemic

Starting a PhD is a thrilling time, but it can also be daunting. What are some of the things one can do to make the beginning as smooth as possible? Manpreet Kaur shares some of the things she has got planned to keep organised and dive into the rich world of research.

I started my PhD in January. It had been a tough few months sorting out thesis corrections for my Masters, and now finally getting hooked into my new project that will be a part of my life for the next three or four years. The uncertainty, the dipping in and out of lockdowns, the various tiers, it has been confusing and frustrating. However, nothing can tarnish the excitement I have been feeling deep down at the thought of starting my PhD. I remember my desire to do a PhD being one of the final lines of my UCAS personal statement and now to think that I have come this far just feels surreal.

This pandemic has, amongst many things, shown me how it is so important to be prepared for things but that too much planning can be quite redundant and leave one feeling like a failure when things don’t turn out as planned. So, while I am not planning every month of my coming years at Warwick as a PhD student, I have got some things down in my checklist as to how to try my best and be as kind as I can to myself.

Warwick PG events

I have got the PG events page bookmarked and try to attend the events that I think I’ll find useful. Check out the events here! I am already quite into the Pint & PhD sessions and try to go whenever I can. The speakers who are presenting their work make their topics very interesting through the way they engage with the audience and present their work. This way I also get to know about research outside of chemistry, and the hard sciences.

Keeping a PhD diary

I kept a diary in the form of an Excel spreadsheet for my Masters (by Research) where I wrote down all the experiments I did on a given day and how the day went, etc. When it came to writing up my thesis, this spreadsheet was so much more useful than I had thought. Especially where I felt like my lab book wasn’t giving me the full picture (I have very bad memory), the spreadsheet was helpful in reminding me why I didn’t do a certain experiment, etc.

Get into the habit of reading around. My PhD project is very different to my Masters one. Something I am more excited than scared about, to be honest, but after having spent over a year doing polymer chemistry, it’ll take some rewiring of the brain before I am able to think of other things. So, reading is going to be necessary but hopefully I’ll be able to figure out a way of making it a part of my routine.

Speak to the supervisor

This would be a continuation of my Masters. I tell the supervisor how things are going, how I am feeling about how things are going, and ask for feedback. Sometimes it feels like it is all going bad and when reactions are not going fine, it is so easy to start blaming oneself for it, but I am not lying when I tell you that Warwick Chemistry has some of the best people. And I think the last thing I would want to get in the way of a positive PhD experience is poor communication.

It has been a tough many months now but I look forward to what is coming next and hopefully it will not be long before I am back in the lab donning my lab coat!

What are your tips on keeping organised and ensuring wider personal development during your PhD? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

by Manpreet

Manpreet Kaur is a first year PhD student in the Department of Chemistry. She has been at Warwick since 2016, and did her BSc and MRes here. Her research project focuses on the design of photoelectrocatalytic systems for the synthesis of nitrogen containing compounds. You can follow her on Twitter here and further details about her project and background can be found here.

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