For all of us studying, remote learning is now a reality and, with virus numbers rising and falling around the globe, it may be for some time. So how best to handle doing something as big as a PhD remotely?
Sort the logistics
Some universities are set up for remote learning, but some have only recently added it to their repertoire. You have to know how the systems work and how to get access to all the things you need. You need to know how to contact your supervisor, access the libraries, submit work, and so on. When you first start, they will give you a list of all these things – don’t put it off until you think you need them – investigate them all straight away and get used to them. Ask lots of “dumb” questions until you know how everything works. Familiarity with all the staff and systems will make a big difference to how long things take and how frustrating things are when you really get going. If your university does not have everything you need, look for other local organisations, maybe business associations, maybe alumni from other universities that can help.
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Be your own coach
When studying on campus, you get to talk to each other, see your supervisor on a regular basis, get inspiration from just being around learning. Remotely you have to be able to motivate yourself to do what needs to be done. The University or your supervisor will set reporting deadlines, but you’ll need to set your own timetable. Draw up a timetable of what you want to have done by when – words, chapters, experiments and put it somewhere you can see it and it can keep you going. Track your progress against the timetable.
This is also a time to learn about yourself and learning. Form a group online with others in your field, make time to listen and encourage each other to stay on track. Look for motivational quotes, speeches, self-help books, podcasts – anything that can help you stay keen and energised.
Get local help
Much as you’ll be driving yourself, you can also get help. Maybe you need a PhD coach or buddy as well as your supervisor, or maybe you can rely on a friend or colleague who’s already done a PhD can provide you with advice. Whatever works for you. Unless you grew up in a family of academics – which I certainly didn’t, without other students around you will need a group of people local to you – or at least in your time zone that you can talk to. Find and build a network of people that are interested in your study. I found a group of commercial research colleagues who were able to provide great advice and assistance when I needed it. They were fantastic.
Your PhD thesis.
All on one page.
Use our free PhD structure template to quickly visualise every element of your thesis.
Set a schedule
Motivation is one thing – all of a sudden you feel inspired about an idea that drives you to work, but you need to be able to get things done on days when you’re not feeling inspired. If you are working, you have children, or other responsibilities that claim your attention, you need to set yourself a schedule where you can fit study in. Pay attention too to your body clock – work out when you work best. For me, I like to get up early, exercise and then study straight away.
Only when I have done a couple of hours do I have breakfast and look at other work. You might need to do family things first thing in the morning then study in the middle of the day, family in the afternoon and then read over what you have done in the evening. Some people are great midnight thinkers. Whatever works for you, set a schedule, and stick to it for a couple of weeks and see how you go. If it does not work, then change it, but give it a real go first. Once you get in a rhythm that works, you will feel less frustrated and get more done.
Celebrate and reward yourself
Without colleagues nearby, it is easy to feel isolated and think you are getting nowhere. Whenever you achieve a milestone – words, sections, whatever goal you set yourself – celebrate! Tell your support group, post online, make a cake, take a day off, whatever you like that makes you feel happy.
After all, this is your journey, you are in charge and you can do what you like!
Vivienne is working on a PhD with Edinburgh Business School from lockdown in Melbourne, Australia. She is an author, speaker, strategist, marketer and qualified company director who develops and implements change for growth. Vivienne’s book, Growing Your Professional Practice, has been described as the ‘must have’ manual for professionals. Visit her website here.