COVID-19 and your research

It is unfortunately no longer possible to hope that the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak won’t have an impact on research activity and your research programme.  Of course, many of us will also be affected personally, through restrictions on our activities or health-related issues for ourselves and loved ones.  Electron microscope image of the Coronavirus COVID-19We have seen it coming, but yesterday marked a step-change with the announcement that campus operations will be restricted after the end of this term and government recommendations to work from home where possible.

In this post, we will explore some of the things that PGRs can do to stay up-to-date with the latest advice, consider the impact of the outbreak on their research, and protect their mental health.

Information is invaluable, but it’s important to get your information from reputable sources which are taking a balanced approach.  You have probably already seen the tailored information in the latest statement from the University and FAQs around Coronavirus (COVID-19), as well as the PGR-specific advice from the Graduate School.   These are all being updated regularly, and I won’t repeat the contents here.  For advice on protective measures, see the official webpages from the UK government and the World Health Organisation.  Be critical of other sources of information (as you would be for your research sources) to check authority, currency and reliability.

Once informed, discuss with your supervisor the potential impact on your research activity.  You may have already agreed a schedule of Skype (or other online) supervision meetings, and started to think about the types of research activity you can carry out while working from home or in self-isolation.  How long will this be an acceptable option for you?  You might like to engage in some scenario planning looking at different timescales for the restrictions, or other potential situations relevant to you.  Under what circumstances might you need to consider a Leave of Absence?

This will be a stressful and difficult time for everyone, for lots of different reasons.  It’s therefore important not to forget to look after yourself and your mental wellbeing.  Student Minds have compiled some useful advice and links relevant to this.  Keep in touch with your family, friends and communities by phone or online.  Think about who is in your social support network and nurture those relationships by both giving and receiving support.  What can you do to support your neighbours?

What changes are you having to make to your research as a result of this pandemic?  What strategies are you using to handle the situation?  What are going to be the particular challenges for you?  Please comment below.


4 thoughts on “COVID-19 and your research”

  1. I want to assure students who are now required by circumstances to use DL tools to work with their mentor that it can be done. As a part-time DL PGR in the CAL-History department, I am grateful for the website resources available through the Library, E-mail, and Canvas system supported by the University of Birmingham. I’ve successfully used video-conferencing via Skype for all of my supervisions save the ones scheduled during my compulsory residency periods. The system worked fine on both sides of the Atlantic. My progression committee interview, during year two, was done via Skype. I submitted my PhD thesis to the graduate registry just last week. I e-mailed it to the Printme shop on campus and they helpfully printed it and delivered it on my behalf to the Graduate Registry. My viva is scheduled in May, via video-conferencing. I will let you know how it goes. I expect things to run smoothly with the technology. We’ll see how I do (that’s another matter whether in your home office or in person).


  2. You would think that my work hasn’t really changed as a result of the lockdown. After all I’m already part-time and working from home when I am not undertaking my field research at BIFoR FACE. In reality there are definite changes to my work now it is all ‘distance-learning’.
    Firstly there are some benefits to being in the same boat as everyone else. Previously I did find that I missed important messages by not being on campus. Now I feel a more integral part of the team.
    Secondly I thought I had the part-time issue sewn up. I used to spend a considerable time when not working on my doctorate doing voluntary monitoring of trees, butterflies etc and felt as if this was a rejuvenator to my doctoral work. Now all that has stopped so I decided from day 1 of the lockdown to use my exercise time for my hobbies. This has meant catching up on a neglected allotment, helping my spouse with many neglected garden jobs, and also pursuing my love of walking and wildlife by taking at least one longer walk a week.
    I did fall a bit flat on the first day of virtual meetings – I felt exhausted for no reason and was only to glad to escape for my daily walk out. Like many others I worried about family and friends, but have made more phone and WhatsApp calls than before so feel a bit more tuned in now.
    Finally I get good and bad days (on my doctoral work) and very much miss my paid and unpaid colleagues who help to make BIFoR FACE tick. It will be a long journey, but I really want to get back that fieldwork which I feel is vital to our research into climate change… I hope you all stay safe and keep going. Together we will make a difference.


  3. I am a lab-based final year PGR and feel lost that there is nothing to do but wait, meanwhile time is running out. In this type of project, if you aren’t physically in the lab doing experiments, then you don’t have thesis material. Obviously some of the lockdown has been used for reading papers and writing intro/methods types of material but I am really worried that when it comes to writing the results and going through the viva that there will just be too many ‘data holes’ to be able to defend…

    Knowing that all the work you had planned in order to finish the thesis and write papers (that ultimately get you a job if staying in academia) is now down the drain is a type of loss I have never experienced before and it is devastating.

    I haven’t seen any support from the University for PGRs in this position or what to expect of your research or yourself under the ongoing circumstances. Lots of ‘be kind to yourself’ but no concrete advice or expectations of what a thesis is likely to look like if 6-9 months of work is missed.

    This is a very stressful time for everyone in very different ways but the university could be doing much more to support PGRs that their project, job prospects and futures are not ‘ruined’ by a failure to be able to complete the planned research. I try to reassure myself that everything will be fine in the end… but on many days it doesn’t feel that way.


    1. We understand COVID19 will affect each PGR differently, and that the impact will vary depending on a PGRs stage of study and individual circumstance. Whilst the university has asked PGRs to do their best to engage with their studies, PGRs may experience significant delay to their research progress. Applying for a Leave of Absence (LOA) or an extension to study is an option and further details, including how to apply, are provided in the ‘COVID-19 Extensions Policy: University of Birmingham Post-Graduate Researchers’:

      Adaption of the research project may be another option, but we appreciate this may not be possible for all students. We encourage PGRs to work with their supervisory team to explore whether changes are possible. For example, could the research question be adapted? Is an alternative approach possible?

      Please let me assure you that we are working to support our PGRs and we welcome feedback from our PGRs.


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