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1. Work out the impact home-working/self-isolation will have
Make a list of all your core PhD duties and priorities for the coming weeks and months. Assess whether you will have the ability to complete these tasks from home and what you will need in order to do so. There are some things you won’t be able to complete (for example, lab work or experiments). In this case, triage your workload. Can you shift priorities and work instead on things that aren’t dependent upon your being on campus?
Similarly, think about how working from home will impact your non-PhD life. Are you a care provider, or living with someone who is symptomatic? This presents its own challenges, so must be considered.
2. Create boundaries
3. Work out key dates for your PhD in the future
Work out your key dates (viva, upgrades, exams, and so on) in the future. Worried about your ability to meet them? Air your concerns with the relevant people as soon as possible, so alternative arrangements can be made.
4. Turn down non-urgent or non-essential work if possible, and triage email
5. Regularly communicate with your supervisors/line managers
Let your supervisors and line managers know that you are self-isolating. Tell them about your plans and immediate workload and let them know how you plan on working during this time. Be realistic; if you have children or caring responsibilities, for example, be upfront about this. At this time, they should be sympathetic.
6. Check that you’ve filled in the necessary paperwork
Some universities require that you fill in paperwork requesting leave from your studies. This is particularly important if you are on a student visa. Check your university’s requirements on this. Most have published coronavirus updates.
Your PhD Thesis.
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7. Learn about what technology you can use to simulate your office environment
The technology available to facilitate remote working is varied and impressive. Some things to consider:
1. Zoom/skype/google hangouts for one-on-one and group video chats
2. Slack, as a way of keeping in touch with teams and peers.
3. Dropbox, for cloud based sharing
4. Google books at a push will help you if you can’t make it to the library. Check if your university has access to online e-book resources/depositories
5. Check if your university has a VPN. This may help you get remote access to resources/software/files that are on campus.
8. Maintain (virtual) social contact and be aware of isolation
Depending on the level of self-isolation required by your home country or current health status, you may find yourself completely shut off from other people. Make sure you keep in touch with friends and family as often as possible. If possible, have phone and video chats, rather than just text message exchanges. It will help you feel more connected.
Having a life outside of work has never been more important, but also never more difficult. Think about things you can do around the home that satisfy the human urge for stimulation and creativity but also avoid social contact. Netflix and youtube have a place, but make sure you don’t vegetate in front of the TV. Pick up a book, start a side-hustle, learn a new skills. Keep busy.
9. Keep moving
The importance of exercising at times like this cannot be overstated. However, if you’re self-isolating it is likely you’re avoiding the gym. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep fit. If your government allows it, you can jog and run in public spaces, keeping distance from others. On top of that, you can use a variety of bodyweight exercises (known as callisthenics) to practice strength and conditioning. You may also want to check out google for virtual exercise classes.
10. Specific advice for those also teaching
1. Check your university’s coronavirus policy and check what arrangements are being made for off-campus teaching.
2. When you’re not sure of your responsibilities, check with your line manager
3. Communicate regularly with your students and let them know the situation may change.
4. Think about how you can plan your seminars or lectures to transition them online. An important thing here is to prioritise what is important. Making your online teaching exactly the same as it is in person is not the most important thing. Instead, you should pick out what’s important and run with that.
5. The simplest technological solution is best. Don’t overcomplicate things by expecting too much from students. Stick to a simple technological solution (see the section on technology above). If all else fails, record your seminar using your webcam, upload it to youtube and send your students the link. Consider hosting Twitter Q&As as a way of soliciting comments. Or, set up a slack chat. Think creatively about the simplest, least resistance route to maximum engagement.
6. Consider that your students are also likely working from home, often on different timezones. Make allowances for that.
7. Batch respond to student inquiries. Don’t respond to each student individually, as many will be sharing similar concerns.
For many people – not just PhD students – working from home is not something they’re used to. The situation thrown up by coronavirus is unprecedented, and many people are learning as they go along. When you come to transition your PhD and teaching online, expect to make mistakes and keep an open mind to finding your most effective way of working. Be prepared to work this way for a while, and try your hardest to find a routine.
This is a group endeavour, so please comment below letting everyone else know what steps you are taking to transition to home-based working. Your views are important and will help others.
Please also share this article using the social share buttons below. Doing so will help other PhD students in your network.
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Great blog, thanks for the advice!
I think all I would add is to recognise that this is a very stressful time (for yourself and for others you are dealing or living with). So consciously give yourself, and others, a bit of slack and a lot of kindness!
Thanks Jason. Good advice for life in general really: cut yourself some slack!
This is good and appropriate advice for those working in as well as off campus. This is a difficult time for all of us and the important thing is to plan the chores well so as to fit in with the current situation – for failing to plan is planning to fail. Do not deny yourself but do not also neglect. Bless you!
Really useful advice. Thanks for contributing.
Thanks for this Max. Some of the advice given is being followed. Here’s my two-bit. 1) Join up some meditative class…I joined up for an online Buddhist meditation class that will help me to calm down. 2) Fix up a time with your peers to video chat, where every day one of us will share what she’s been doing with her PhD work, and others can pitch in with suggestions/ideas. This helps to motivate us to work on and not slack off, since we have to report the next time my slot for discussion comes in. Besides, we feel better to know each of us is struggling through these stressful times and this exchange helps to feel bonded and receive support.
Great advice, thanks. The most important skill I ever learnt was learning how to meditate.