By Giovanna Pasquariello |
So, lockdown is in easing course. Step three began on the 4th July in the UK. Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers are permitted to open with social distance measures in England. Scotland entered phase three: non-essential shops in shopping centres could re-open starting from the 13th July and indoors cafés, restaurants and holiday accommodations (such as museums, galleries, cinemas, libraries) have also been able to re-open from the 15th. Similar measures – and slightly different timetables – have been taken up in Wales and Northern Ireland.
But what about education and research?
With regard to the schools, the plan is to allow all pupils to return to their classrooms full-time from the beginning of the autumn term. This is vital for the younger students’ wellbeing and for their academic development too. Universities, on the other side, are planning to re-open activities, but the general idea is that every UK institution should “adapt to their own […] settings and contexts” and keep the students in “protective bubbles” [https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Documents/2020/principles-and-considerations-emerging-from-lockdown-june-2020.pdf].
Many universities seem to be prone to an “hybrid” approach. In practical terms, this means that:
Some classes will be run on-campus.
Smaller groups of students might be expected to be resident and attend safe didactic activities, such as tutorials. The university spaces will therefore be open to access, presumably with safety measures and some restrictions in order to allow the 1m/2m distance among students and staff. Collaboration with other local institutions, such as the libraries, is encouraged in order to find alternative ways and spaces for the reopening of the activities in a safe environment.
Lectures are encouraged to be held online.
Where larger groups are expected, online learning is the suggested option. Lectures, seminars, conferences will in all likelihood be held remotely. Assignments and assessments are going to happen digitally too. Class blogs and virtual blackboards are likely to become a major sharing, learning and feedback platform.
Library services are allowed to re-open.
University libraries can now re-open and guarantee the basilar services of loans and returns. In order to ensure safety, the structures capacity is reduced, same as the face to face interaction among staff and users. The cleaning procedures must be implemented instead. A different discourse should be made for the study areas: for now, it seems like the University libraries are mostly going to absolve their role of research material supplying, with no guarantee of study spaces available.
What does this mean for us, PhD students?
- We are able to access our University resources, to ask for loans and to return them – which was a major concern during the past months.
- In all likelihood, we will have to – or will be encouraged to – work from home.
- We should be able to undertake tutorials – whether online or on campus it depends on the individual institution’s capacity.
- The most part of the academic networking events will still be held online.
- Fieldwork and research trips are now allowed but they obviously depend on the travel rules and restrictions of the country of destination.
- Reviews and vivas might be undertaken remotely at first.
- Social events inside the University buildings are not allowed or strongly discouraged.
There is not a clear plan yet and this is our main concern for the future, which still seems to be so different from what we were used to. Research often grounds on and is enhanced by networking, communication, movement of people and sharing of ideas. Even though the lockdown has been a detriment for the fundaments of academia, let’s appeal to our flexibility and sense of adaptation and step into the year ahead with some more sense of consciousness of what we share: the love for research, the love for advancement in all its forms, the love for learning.
Giovanna Pasquariello is a Contributions editor for “Pubs and Publications: the PhD experience”. She’s a first year at the University of Edinburgh, studying something old, very old: Greek inscriptions about the Celtic tribes who settled in Anatolia in 3rd BC. Apart from this, she swears she is a fun person.