PhD research experience during Covid-19

| October 6, 2020

I started my PhD at the School of Business Western Sydney University (WSU), Australia nine months before lockdown. I was fortunate to make the most of my time socialising and getting to know the staff in my department.

I have a desk allocated to me in the School of Business, Campbelltown Campus. I decided to settle in and personalise my desk seeing as I would be spending a lot of time here over the duration of my PhD. I introduced myself to everyone at the School of Business and received a warm welcome in return.

I appreciated being added to a group chat as it meant being in contact with fellow PhD colleagues and support in the form of advice or ‘pick-me-ups’.

I am very fortunate to have supportive supervisors. To thrive as a PhD student one requires a friendly and supportive working environment. It has been great to share ideas of my project, obtain feedback and apply suggestions to my work. In preparation for my Confirmation of Candidature (CoC),

I had weekly meetings with my supervisors discussing elements of my project plan. Once I completed my early CoC I began preparing for the dreaded Ethics approval process. I became heavily engaged in the work and so meetings with my supervisors would be held as required. Thankfully my ethics application was approved after a few times back and forth with the Ethics Committee.

My supervisors, Dr Dorothea Bowyer and Dr Connie Vitale are always available if I require any guidance, help or support, always encouraging me to be open about my wellbeing. If they have not heard from me during a period when I have been completing tasks, they check in to see how things are going. Sometimes these check-ins would be in the form of online Zoom meetings and other times it would be a phone call or email.

I am fortunate to have commenced working as a casual academic at WSU with wonderful people including Dr Jayne, Dr Claire and Dr Nadine. My first experience of teaching at WSU and it has been an enjoyable experience for me.

As course coordinators, Dr Claire and Dr Nadine both were very kind, humble, easy to approach and discuss anything that arose. I was amazed by their adaptable approach as the effects of COVID-19 meant that all teaching moved online.

Their incredible support to our teaching team and students during this challenging time is highly commendable. I learnt a lot from this and made teaching very enjoyable. The learning and teaching experiences I will hold dearly and look back on the memories fondly.

I am also happy to have Michael Burgess, our Chief Student Experience Office from WSU, keeping us informed of the current situation Covid-19 and also what is going on in WSU.

Recently at the HDR Students election, I was selected as the Higher Degree Research (HDR) student representative in the HDR Committee in the School of Business at WSU. As part of my role, I regularly attend events and communicate with HDR colleagues via our WhatsApp group chat informing them of university resources, upcoming workshops and HDR events.

There are numerous training courses available both internally and externally which one can participate in. Undertaking a PhD requires one to take ownership of their time by managing time effectively.

Limited to 24 hours in a day and being aware that it is not possible to be productive and motivated at all times. It is important to plan out the day and hold oneself accountable for the tasks required to be completed, the order in which to do tasks, rest times, household chores as well as socialising with family and friends.

While lockdown has meant the social aspect experienced in university and outdoors with friends is reduced it has provided us with the opportunity to think of other ways to develop our research career including collaborating with researchers virtually and attending online training and workshops globally.

Ultimately, the project is yours. You are the one in the driver seat and it is up to you how you choose to navigate your PhD journey. It’s important to be flexible and understand that plans can change, but with a positive mindset and a can-do attitude, you will be able to move forward.

For example, during Covid-19 the School of Business at WSU encouraged attending research training and writing articles for publications. I took this suggestion and set out to write a few articles both personally and in collaboration with colleagues globally. During this time, have had a number of these articles published.

The best advice I can give you is to document everything to create and develop your brand. In addition to my PhD, I am currently completing another Postgraduate Research Training and Skill Development course, Graduate Certificate in Researcher Engagement, Development and Impact (GCREDI) at the Graduate Research School at WSU. This course highlighted the importance of an e-portfolio in developing one’s research career – and creating a personal website is a good place to start!