‘Sunrises’ (Reeve, 2020).

PGR in a Pandemic: how I got through it

Doing a PhD at the best of times is challenging, rewarding, infuriating, exhilarating, and exhausting. Doing a PhD during a pandemic, while simultaneously home-schooling two primary-school aged children, is…all of the above, and more! We were very lucky in that none of us got ill, and we were able to stay home and stay safe, but there’s no denying that it’s been tricky at times. Here’s how I got through it…

1. Let it go, let it go…

Yes, we did listen to the song from Frozen really quite a lot, but it also applies to my PhD work. I had to take a big step back from many of my plans for the last year, from overseas conferences and research trips (I had a lovely fellowship in Cyprus lined up) to simply putting research and writing on the back burner for months at a time. Fortunately my supervisors were extremely supportive and understanding, so it was just a question of coming to terms with the lack of forward momentum. Easier said than done, but having that explicit understanding that it was ok for progress to stall was really helpful with getting my head round the situation.

Homeschooling stationery

2. You can do two things at once, but only to a certain extent.

Supervising phonics lessons while noting down page references works reasonably well, from time to time. Providing tech support for live (or ‘synchronous’, as we now say) maths lessons while trying to make edits works less well. One high point was writing ‘stet’ on my 6-year-old’s worksheet, as I got my wires crossed (and also, apparently, forgot the difference between clockwise and anticlockwise).

3. Ask a librarian

I had not intended to be working mainly from home at this point in my PhD. In fact, I was planning a wide range of library visits, to check out both primary and secondary sources, all material which hasn’t been digitised – which posed a bit of a problem. Fortunately, librarians and archivists across the country have really stepped up to help tackle access challenges. I’m extremely grateful to many institutions, especially Special Collections at Leeds, for posting books and providing information and scans. Knowing that some of the material was there, ready and waiting for when I had time to work on it, was a huge help in taking off the pressure.

4. Catch up when you can

I have never been so productive in my life as when the schools went back in September. Even though it was frustrating not being able to get on with my work until then, I at least had a clear plan in mind, so was able to hit the ground running when I finally got some free time. (Then the January lockdown happened, but that’s another story…).

5. Take your wins where you can get them

Going slow on my PhD – at a time when I was expecting to be forging ahead, and completing in time to apply for the next round of postdoctoral fellowships – was hard at times. But there were upsides. Deadlines for finalising publications meant very early mornings – and sunrises. Recorded presentations for online conferences were easier to catch up with at odd moments, rather than having to take several days out to travel and attend the whole thing. And I unexpectedly learned a lot about ladybirds!

Ladybird facts

References

Reeve, A. 2020. ‘Homeschooling stationery’. [Photograph].

Reeve, A. 2020. ‘Ladybird facts’. [Photograph].

Reeve, A. 2020. ‘Sunrise’. [Photograph].