This term is shaping up to be much like the rest of 2020 – unprecedented, uncertain, and stressful. Nevertheless, theses continue to be written, books continue to be read, and tutorials continue to be taught. Our committee (and our wider Pubs & Publications community) continues to persist even as uncertainty reigns, doing whatever we can to make our lives a bit more organised and a bit more comfortable.
In this vein, we ask our committee: What are you doing to prepare for this new academic year, given the pandemic?
Tim Galsworthy, Chair
We are at the start of an academic term unlike any other. When I began my PhD in September 2018, I didn’t think I would be thinking about masks, social distancing, and travel restrictions two years later. This term I am teaching a second-year course titled “African American Experience.” I am teaching online so much of my preparation time is being spent ensuring my seminar groups will still have engaging and productive classes, even in these unusual circumstances. I am spending twice as long as normal working through seminar plans and devising activities for my students. With travel to United States, where key archival collections for my PhD are housed, on hold, I’ve prepared for this term by thinking carefully and thoroughly about my schedule and plans for the term. I have worked through what research can be conducted remotely and what chapter writing I can get done before Christmas. I love a good plan, but, thanks to Coronavirus, I’m being accustomed to my best laid plans going by the wayside! My academic diary, my trusty sidekick throughout my entire PhD, has never seen so much scribbling and crossing out. In preparing for the term now underway, and throughout this term, I will be following Dory’s wise advice to “just keep swimming.”
Giovanna Pasquariello, Vice Chair
Last semester has been tough. Hence my major goal for the new academic year is to make it go differently. Although the most part of the academic activities are – or are going to be – held online, there are a few things I can do to take the best from the forthcoming semester. First of all, identifying what did not work for me in the past. The biggest difficulty has been my lack of motivation, due to a continuous state of waiting. I felt like I was standing by, in the expectation of a change coming from the external world. Being this out of my control, I therefore realized that I should stop waiting for things to get back to normal. Given also the fact that I suffered from the cancellation of all my plans – and from the loneliness of only being me, myself and my thesis – I decided that the best thing for me is to keep myself busy. But specifically, busy with work/study activities unrelated to my research project (such as teaching, auditing classes, attending seminars) and with activities completely other than the academic ones. The major benefit of this approach is that now I need to manage my time for real – something I did not need to do last semester, because of the almost total shortage of other things to do, with consequent dispersion of energies. Having to work out an efficient time schedule usually keeps me alive, active and more motivated than if I did not need it.
Séveric Yersin, Contributions Editor
First of all, I replaced the laptop I bought at the beginning of my study, almost ten years ago. Even if it still works okay, it showed worrying signs of age lately and I didn’t want to take the risk of working from home with an unreliable computer. This prompted a debate in my institution: should the university pay for these kinds of expenses? Second, I developed a new way of organising my tasks and my calendar, to make sure that I don’t miss any Zoom meetings or online workshops. This is still an ongoing process, since I’m still not completely comfortable with a 100% digital workplace – but I’m getting there. What this means concretely is that I looked more closely at productivity apps and choosing those that worked the best for me. Third, I contacted many professors or research groups active in my field of study. Since most of them meet on a regularly basis for workshops or research colloquiums, and most of these meetings take place online, I figured that I could attend more of these now than before. In terms of quality, these are probably less interesting than in-person meetings, but the quantity makes up for it (at least I hope so).
Ellis Mallett, Contributions Editor
I’ve realised how important it is to maintain a sense of normalcy (whatever that means!) when studying for a PhD during a pandemic. Over the last six months, this has included really small things such as having a dedicated space to work at home, getting up and ready for the day as you would when going into the office, making sure I stay organised, as well as taking some time out for things other than research! This academic year I plan to attend and participate in virtual events, research seminars and conferences so that I’m still able to engage with other scholars and doctoral students online during my studies. Feeling isolated is a common experience for lots of PhD students and while the pandemic might enhance that feeling in some ways, it has also shown how communities can be brought together via online platforms too! Social media is also great for networking and interacting with others in your field and can mitigate feelings of loneliness, as well as regular contact with your colleagues and supervisors. While face-to-face conferences and events may not be going ahead as planned, there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved and maintain a sense of ‘normality’ over the course of the next academic year.
Ellie Ralph, Editor-at-Large
The number one thing that I have done in preparation for this new academic year is get organised. I took a day to organise all my files on my PC and USB stick, check my references had the right information, organise paperwork and put things into folders with tab dividers. I pride myself on being organised and for some this may seem a bit much, but it keeps me on track (and is especially helpful for times I fall off the bandwagon of PhD work) as I can instantly know where I am at with things. I made sure to enter all important dates for teaching into my calendar too, both for sessions I teach and sessions I attend as a student. Another benefit of being the organised friend is that you can help out your other friends when they need important information too!
Vesna Curlic, Topical Editor
Even though this isn’t the semester any of us hoped for, it is the one we are stuck with and the one we have to adapt to! This semester, I am trying to prioritise research and writing, even though my archival plans have been thwarted. I’m trying to schedule specific times to work on the thesis, rather than letting it get swept away in a sea of other tasks. I have also redone my work-from-home set up to better accommodate research, including investing in an external monitor, which makes reading primary sources much easier. Most of all, I am accepting that what works for me in normal life doesn’t necessarily work in pandemic life. While I live a strict 9-5 existence during normal times, treating the PhD office much like a regular work office, I find that this doesn’t work as well for me in the pandemic era. I find myself enjoying working at odd hours, including in the evenings and on the weekends, largely because it breaks up the monotony of working from home.
Rachel Wilson-Lowe, Topical Editor
To start my third (and FINAL) year of my PhD, I have actually decided to take a wee break. I finally got the go ahead from my supervisors that I am finished with the data collection phase of my PhD (yay no more stressing about recruitment and phone interviews!). So I have taken two weeks off, with no checking my email, to engage in some other hobbies of mine. These two weeks have been spent sewing and upholstering stuff for my VW caddy which is slowly transforming into a campervan! While this has been a new kind of stress (I officially hate sewing patterns), it has been really important for me to take this time off and reset.
So it is ok if the start of the new semester is actually a vacation! It can be really tempting to just plow through and keep chipping away at the PhD. But I think our mental health, and actual PhD thesis, benefit from marking our big accomplishments during the project and taking some time to ourselves. I am a firm believer that your brain just chugs away in the background, reflecting on your project, so new ideas are ready when we get back to it!
Craig Lennox, Publicity Editor
I like to feel like I am getting organised for the start of the new academic year and as a stationery freak, I have gone online and bought myself some new things. I know it’s weird, but new stationery always motivates me. I’ve got a new academic diary and I’ve printed out a one-year plan sheet so that I can see the year on one page. I am starting to plan out supervisor meetings, setting myself writing deadlines, reading deadlines etc so that I have a plan to work to. Inevitably, everything will change but it feels good to have something to focus on. I keep this one-page plan folded up and stapled into the front of the planner.
I have also set myself some key goals relating to academic life: I would like to find a virtual conference to present at in the coming year, I’d like to find an opportunity to publish my research, and I would also like the chance to engage with some organisations who may have an interest in my research or my methodology. So, I definitely have a busy year ahead filled with deadlines, objectives, meetings and hopefully lots of personal growth and feelings of satisfaction.
Megan King, Publicity Editor
As I gear up for the start of the academic year, creating a solid work from home environment and routine has been a priority for me. My university has worked hard to ensure that postgraduates are provided with a safe working environment on campus, but ultimately, I decided that others can probably make better use of that space than I would. So, I’ve organized my desk, alphabetized my bookshelf, invested in a memory foam seat cushion, and stocked up on all the best fall-scented candles. I’ve also purchased a new planner, where I can divide my tasks between PhD-related work, wellbeing and fitness practices, and household chores. Fingers crossed for a cozy, pumpkin-scented few months of editing and exercise!