Starting a PhD in a Pandemic - The Positives

Every cloud has a silver lining - starting my PhD during the COVID-19 pandemic has at least three!



It's easy to think about the cons of COVID - many people's lives have been irreparably disrupted. It's definitely been a time of huge change; some negative but with at least a smattering of positives. Like many people, I started a new role during the pandemic. One year into my PhD, I've found myself talking quite positively about the challenges of starting during the pandemic and, in the interest of balance, I think it'd be nice to find some silver linings wherever available.

1. I've been forced to become much more socially forward. I'm naturally quite introverted and I was definitely quite socially anxious as a teenager. I've gradually become more open and confident as I've got older, but moving cities, universities and starting a PhD during a pandemic has supercharged that progress. I realised very quickly that if I wanted to get to know my colleagues and people in my city, I was going to have to be proactive. I asked colleagues out to lunches and coffees after teaching sessions, I invited lab mates for regular virtual coffee mornings and pub trips, and my partner and I invited friends of friends in the city that we half knew or people we hadn't spoken to in years for dinner. And I love it. I dread to think how many missed opportunities and friendships I've let slip over the years from being the one always waiting for an invitation. Plus, as the person instigating the plans, I get to choose the locations that serve my favourite drinks!
2. I'm able to work from home with no stigma. This has been a blessing and a curse. I've definitely missed the social aspect that comes from working alongside people in an office, particularly when starting in a new role and trying to expand my social circle. I do feel quite isolated from the wider PhD community. But, I love the flexibility of working from home. I bought my first home in January 2021 and a puppy in May - all during the pandemic. I can't imagine how much more stressful, if not impossible, those processes would have been had my partner and I both been in the office 5 days each week. For the house, we were able to take endless phone calls about our mortgage in between meetings before we moved, and after we've been able to speed up our renovation by flexibly booking deliveries of materials. For our dog, we're able to take her for walks at lunchtime, take breaks mid-afternoon to work on obedience training and generally help her settle into our home by being with her.

Aneira has been enjoying our lunchtime play sessions.

3. In my experience, people are more considerate of others wellbeing. At least for my department, they've been very hot on creating virtual events, like pub roulette and desk yoga, to keep people connected and improve wellbeing during the pandemic. Resources are being given to facilitate wellbeing support for the university as a whole. My supervisor frequently asks how I'm doing, and actually wants an answer instead of asking as a courtesy. Having mentioned that I was struggling a few months ago, she commended how hard I'd been working and how promising my output was before recommending I take the rest of the day off to take a break and refresh.

Having started my PhD in October 2020, I can't really picture my work-life in any other way. I think I've been forced into growing as a person, I enjoy my work being flexible and I love that wellbeing is finally being seen and focussed on my institutions. There have, of course, been struggles over the past year but it's nice to think about the silver linings that can come with it.