Managing Well-being and Postgraduate Study During Covid-19

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Chrissie writes about her experience with prioritizing wellbeing when transitioning to PhD and the challenges PhD students face during the Covid-19 pandemic.

– Chrissie Thwaites

In September 2020, shortly after submitting the last work for my master’s degree, I started a doctorate. And there is no doubt about it: the transition to postgraduate research as well as moving to a new house, a new city, a new university during the Covid-19 pandemic is a big step that has brought unique challenges! The department building is closed (like most of the campus), PGRs are encouraged to work from home, meetings and seminars are held online, and the reality of Covid often makes it difficult to get the same quality work as usual to produce.

During my first semester as a PhD student, I gradually learned to adapt to these circumstances and try to manage my own wellbeing while I was stuck with my PhD. I am sure that I am not alone in these fights. So I wanted to share some tips that helped me make this transition. Learning these lessons has really helped me and I hope they can help you too!

1. Find your work area

I don’t know about you, but for the past few months I’ve been thinking, “Campus will probably be open soon!” or “I can use a desk in the department in the near future.” I’ve also found a bit of false hope by telling myself things like, “Soon I’ll be able to bypass other PGRs.” But while I get some short-term comfort from these thoughts, I’ve found that I’m in This mindset can have some negative effects on my mentality in the long run. For example, one problem is that this mindset invites me to view my current work area as temporary, so I’m less likely to make it a good place to study. But the reality is that we are in the here and now. The vaccine might be around the corner and having hope for future changes is good, but it is also important not to wait for the good work place or campus access. Instead, it’s important to get the most out of what you have. The quality of your workspace can really affect how you feel day in and day out and how you approach your doctorate. So I encourage you to think about how can you have a good job at home? Do you have a desk or your own workplace? Even if you live g The space is small. Creating a space separate from your sleeping or relaxation areas can create a mental distance between work and rest.

2. Discover your “work self”

When I decided to study for a doctorate, I learned how to work best – and most importantly, how to work best in the current circumstances. For example, towards the end of the last semester, I started setting goals and planning ahead. I found this immensely useful and felt more motivated to start working each day because I knew what I was doing and how it fitted into the bigger picture. So what works for you? How do you do your best work Perhaps there are certain times of the day that you work best. Do you allow yourself to work with this schedule? (Of course – you may be something of a night owl, but being there in daylight and getting a good night’s sleep is great for mental health!). I think it’s also important to remember that discovering your “work self” is a learning process. The doctorate brings with it a new level of independence that we often have to learn to deal with. Learn how you work, how often you need breaks, what time of day you like to start – and don’t beat yourself up if it’s different from others! Your path is the best way to work for you.

3. Connect

Connecting is more difficult today than ever. For many people, isolation is already part of the reality of getting a PhD. You are studying a niche subject and it is a long project for which you take individual responsibility. If you’re in the humanities like me, you may not be part of a research group and do your research entirely yourself. I recently attended an event on Zoom with fellow students called “10 Steps to a Great PhD”. By posting on the chat, we learned that we all felt the same – pretty overwhelmed, not sure how to conduct our new promotion projects, and the feeling that Covid was amplifying all of this. We experienced the same thing – but we didn’t know! As you connect with others, you can find that you are not the only one feeling this way. Hence, I would recommend making the most of any online events and connection opportunities that come your way!

4. Practice self-goodness

Finally, be kind to yourself. Imposter syndrome is real and anxiety can be compounded during Covid-19. Hence, it is important to practice self-friendliness. Focusing on the positive and practicing gratitude can help. I have also found that investing in hobbies and interests outside of my studies is very important to my sanity. So remember to make a life outside of your doctorate as well. Make time for your friends. And don’t forget the importance of speaking to yourself with kindness.

More resources from Student Minds on managing your studies and wellbeing during the pandemic are available here

I’m Chrissie, a first year PhD student at the University of Leeds. My research interests include theology and religious studies. I want to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and encourage others to improve their wellbeing.

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