When I started my PhD just a little over a year ago, I made a mental list of all of the things that might happen over the next three years, and all of the challenges I might face. That life happens around and throughout your PhD journey is something that all researchers must confront at some point during their studies, and doing a doctorate requires an intricate management of the world beyond the PhD. However, having a slightly pessimistic disposition, it felt reassuring to consider what challenges might arise and to think about how best to mitigate whatever comes my way from the beginning. One thing that did not make my list, however, was the outbreak of a global pandemic.
And yet, that is precisely the situation in which my colleagues and I now find ourselves. The coronavirus has spread on an unprecedented scale and has brought much of the world to a grinding halt. Our university campuses have closed, and we are, at the time of writing, in partial lockdown. That this pandemic will affect our research is, at this stage, inevitable. So, it is only natural that we ask ourselves what might be done to mitigate its impact.
There are a number of practical limitations that arise from a state of lockdown. To start, conducting fieldwork appears to be out of the question in the coming months. For me, this has sent me back to the drawing board. Prior to the pandemic, I was in the process of designing my fieldwork and planning the next few months of my research. In a sense, this has forced a period of much needed introspection; by obliging me to ask difficult questions about the decisions I am making and allow myself some important time to reflect and regroup before proceeding. In any case, as universities move increasingly (now entirely) online, it has never been more feasible to remain productive and research active remotely. From staying in touch with supervisors to completing interviews and focus groups, platforms like Zoom and Skype mean that research need not simply cease in these uncertain times.
Perhaps less easy to mitigate, however, are the missed opportunities that will arise as a consequence of cancelled events and conferences. As a doctoral research student, time is precious and your position is precarious. In the competitive world of academia, the opportunities to teach, publish and present can be just as important as the successful completion of a thesis in terms of securing employment post-PhD. From this perspective, cancelled classes and conferences could potentially have a significant impact on professional development, not simply in terms of bolstering your CV. Conferences, for example, provide networking opportunities that are difficult to replicate in the current climate of social distancing.
There are, then, a myriad of concerns for PhD students beyond the immediate threat to progression. It is without a doubt an uncertain and anxious time for everyone and for many, particularly those more closely affected by COVID-19, staying productive will be the least of their concerns. In these strange and uncertain times, the PhD and the world beyond it seem to be at odds. Despite the levity of some sections of academia, who insist that lockdown is concomitant with something of a productivity boom, it is important be mindful of your own mental health and recognise your own limitations in the coming weeks and months.
The PhD and pandemic, it seems, reveals a struggle between productivity and priority that we all must address. Coronavirus will continue to have an impact that reaches far beyond our research journey. It will, it seems, remain possible to continue to research. However, it would be a little naive to suggest that this constitutes anything resembling a ‘business as usual’ approach. In these anxious times, it is important to take the time to rest, reflect and regroup.
The CCSE PhD research student team are delighted to announce the details of the first CCSE Seminar series! The CCSE will host three lunchtime seminars across January and February 2020. We have invited researchers and professionals to deliver presentations across on topics relevant to the work of the Centre. Each session will feature two 15 minute presentations, with 25 minutes for Q+A.
The line-up is as follows:
Arts, Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy
Prof Gayle McPherson and Dr Allan Moore, Oluwaseyi Aina
Sport, Cultural Events and Festivals
Dr Carlton Brick, Solomon IIevbare
Place-Focused Cultural Regeneration
Dr Clare Edwards, Conor Wilson
All sessions will take place at UWS Paisley Campus in room J211 unless stated otherwise. Everyone is welcome, so bring your lunch down and hear about some of the fascinating research taking place within the CCSE, across the university and beyond!
I’m about to make a small confession I’ve had it in my diary to write this blog post for longer than I care to admit. The reason I’m making such an, admittedly risky, confession is to show that self-discipline is hard to achieve. I’m sure we all procrastinate from time to time, but when you’re an independent researcher there isn’t really anyone to tell you not to. The beginning of a PhD is an incredibly exciting time. But the self-directed nature the process means that structure we once enjoyed during our undergraduate days, or our time in the workplace, are a thing of the past.
So, what can be done when the inevitable motivational lulls come, or we find ourselves spending more time scrolling through twitter than the latest issues of journals? Well, here are some thoughts and reflections on my own experiences of self-discipline in my PhD journey so far.
1) Structure your day (and stick to it!)
The early stages of a doctorate can feel a little vague. We haven’t got heaps of data to wade our way through, no conference presentations to prepare or chapters to write up. This is a necessary part of the process, but it doesn’t change the fact that the task of ‘learning the literature’ doesn’t necessarily have an obvious starting point, and is certainly easy to feel lost when faced with such an amorphous task.
What, then, can be done to add a bit of structure to those first few months of PhD life? Creating a weekly and daily ‘to do’ list and setting myself reasonable goals helped me get to grips with the self-directed nature of doctoral study. Got a piece of writing I want to finish up? Or maybe a number of articles I want to read each day? Or a book to finish? Breaking down your broader goals into smaller, more attainable tasks can make the process less daunting and help add a degree of structure to the process. Of course, this only works if you actually stick to your plan, and this takes some practice. So, don’t be too hard on yourself if there’s a few things on your to-do list which seem to keep appearing!
2) Take some time to explore other opportunities
Of course, it is incredibly important to take the time to lay the foundations of your research. But there’s also so much more the PhD experience, and your first year can be a great time to explore the plethora of exiting opportunities that we now have access to as PhD students. There is a seemingly infinite amounts events, seminars and conferences taking place. You don’t have to be presenting your research at an international conference to start building a network of researches and practitioners in your field!
I was fortunate enough gain my first bit of teaching experience last semester. Though this might have been time consuming it was an incredibly rewarding experience and one which I feel has given me heaps of transferable skills, and confidence, which I can take into my PhD journey and beyond.
3) Take a break!
Yes, even PhD students take time off! However, scrolling through my Twitter feed, it would certainly seem as though we’re all constantly working. There is certainly no shortage of posts from academics asserting how busy we all are. This can compound the pressure to feel like you’ve always got to be working. But it is important to use the early stages of your research to establish a healthy work-life balance and a sustainable working pattern – we all want to avoid the dreaded burnout down the line!
Self-discipline is an important part of the PhD process, and the ability manage a project on this scale is one of the most valuable transferable skills doctoral study equips us with. But it is important to remember that this is a learning curve, and the art of self-discipline is one that takes practice to perfect. Maybe next time, this task won’t be in my diary so quite as long!
I was chatting with some PhD colleagues last week about the first few months of our research, and if there is one thing that we all seemingly had in common, it was the dreaded imposter syndrome. While it was certainly comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in feeling slightly overwhelmed at the beginning of my PhD, I still feel that there is something unique, and often unspoken, about the experience imposter syndrome when doing interdisciplinary research.
My research within the Centre explores the impact of the Paisley 2021 bid, and cultural initiatives more generally, on Paisley’s internal and external image and reputation. I’m interested in exploring the extent to which the media coverage generated, and the narratives created, have been used to ‘brand’ the town to external stakeholders as well as local residents. I’m also interested in understanding the extent to which these narratives might be used to stimulate broader regeneration aims.
My PhD is, then, interdisciplinary. I am exploring literature from all corners of the social sciences and beyond, looking at debates across urban, cultural and communication studies. What’s more, I’m far from the only person doing this sort of interdisciplinary work. Interdisiplinarity, or at least the lexicon of it, has become increasingly popular within academia in recent years.
But what does this mean for PhD students and early career researchers trying to forge an identity, and an expertise without the confines of traditional disciplinary boundaries? I have often joked – as I did when speaking with my PhD colleagues last week – that the thing about interdisciplinary imposter syndrome is that we get it in every space we operate. Without the stability of having a discipline to call our own, we often feel like we don’t belong in any of the research spaces we work within. Starting a PhD is daunting for everyone, but trying to gain expertise and understanding of different literatures in multiple subject areas at once can feel, at times, a near impossible task. So where does this leave interdisciplinary researchers like myself? There are positives, certainly. Interdisiplinarity can connect you with a wide range of academics and researchers from a variety of subject areas, and that can be an exciting thing.
Imposter syndrome is, then, one of the common issues that PhD students face during our research journey, and without the security of traditional academic identities it is important to remind ourselves that PhD study by its very nature is about pushing boundaries. With this in mind, is it not about time that we pushed the boundaries of the disciplines themselves? Arthur Koestler, writing in 1964, contended that for something to be considered a creative act, it must involve bisocation of two ‘incompatible’ schools of thought. This may not be a particularly nuanced way of understanding creativity, but perhaps this is a useful way of framing our interdisciplinary endeavours.