‘2020 vision’ always used to be a metaphor for foresight, clarity and determination. 2020 the year proved to be a disaster movie in slow motion, with the virus prising open existing inequalities with almost surgical precision as it took lives, and kept taking. Livelihoods followed. As the year ends, we are still within its shadow. In the UK, Brexit is upon us with the new year, with all the uncertainty that brings. Double trouble.
In universities, life was far from normal, as was the case for everyone, and bizarre scenes followed, with undergraduates penned in (in some cases literally) to enforced ‘bubbles’ in uni accommodation that was never designed for such constraint. Teaching went online where it could, with uni MS Teams facilities exponentially expanded to cope, and everyone becoming very familiar with the blurry backgrounds, drop-outs and extraneous household sounds (and pets or children) which went with Zoom.
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We certainly noticed the difference. Demand for our support grew in lockstep with lockdown and has continued since. It isn’t hard to work out why. Even if your supervisors are brilliant, dedicated, enthusiastic and friendly (and yes, we know many do not tick all or even any of those boxes), they will have had to carry out far more work, with teaching online and in class, and had to adapt their home and work lives to keep going.
If your supervision was already far from ideal, the pandemic was not likely to make it better. The effects of the pandemic directly on how people live and work have caused many additional hardships, and of course, the pandemic will also affect research in many cases. Hard enough to recruit participants or run a survey or work a lab in the best of times: does not take PhD to realise how these are likely to fare in the worst of times as well. Many are struggling. At least one UK funder has said they will not be offering more financial help, though some universities have done so. Staggered returns are likely after the new year, and restrictions to how we lead our lives are likely to be the reality for several more months yet. What a time to be doing a PhD!
And yet. You are not alone. Everyone is suffering from the pandemic, but now there is hope. Vaccines are slowly becoming available. If they prove one thing, it is that research works. It is worth the effort. It is how we overcome adversity, in part, along with political will and collective determination. Knowing why is the first step to knowing the way to change things, for the better. With enough support, people can find the will to carry one – and that also means you. You agreed to do a difficult, demanding, unique thing, and with the right help you still can. The depths of winter (even this one) need not mean despair, despondency and abandoning the dream
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We feel the struggle the people who contact us are going through. We were here to help them with that, before the virus. We are still here, and we will keep helping people in the new year. More services will be available, starting in the Spring. We shall persevere – as will you. We wish you a good break, and urge you to take one as you can. The light is returning.
Alan Taman is The PhD Proofreaders’ Communication Manager. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org