Resilience during a pandemic

In this post, Simona Scanni, a distance learning PGR from the Department of Modern Languages, shares her challenges and the ways in which she has built her resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You will feel alone. Nobody will understand your research work, nobody will ask you about it. So be prepared to feel alone as a part of the journey.

A photograph of Chancellor's Court at the University of Birmingham, showing the entrance to the Aston Webb building.

This was, more or less, the advice we were given by some PGR fellows during the very first residential week in September, on my first year as a PhD student. At the time, I opted for the distance learning programme, so I was already prepared about the idea of being far away from the campus and university services, and somehow isolated from the campus life. My research is about online learning which, ironically, was something existing but still “remote” for many people. The pro was that I could actually conduct my research from home or from any part of the world.

Back then, I did not have the slightest idea (nor did anyone) that online learning would become mandatory for many students and institutions worldwide to avoid education disruption. However, the advice echoed in my head as an important one to keep in mind, especially in tough time, which for me happens to be related to other people’s perceptions of my PhD (unfortunately, I care too much about what my parents think).

Because I have been working from home before the term “work from home” even was an option, only few among friends and relatives took my work seriously. They do not know what I research on, perhaps they do not consider PhD activities as a job that takes you time and effort, and the fact that I do it from the comfort of home gave many people the wrong idea of me doing nothing important. Now, when I mention “online learning and COVID-19” they pay much more attention, when I mention that I work from home they better understand because they are experiencing (or have experienced for a while) the same work arrangement. Basically, it took a pandemic to take my PhD seriously.

The novel virus has surely increased the gap among people, and the feeling of loneliness is exacerbating. But, as a distance learner, the switch to distance learning has given me the chance to attend many courses and events I would have otherwise missed. I organised an online conference for the UoB, I took part in many online conferences and poster presentations, I attended academic and ESL courses and classes on Zoom and Canvas (and I highly recommend all of them in terms of teaching and organisation). I still felt alone in my research, but I learned that moving to extracurricular activities makes me feel more part of the Campus life and compensates the lack of curiosity from family and friends.

You will feel alone and even more isolated during COVID-19, that is a fact. 4 years is a long journey, but with some little stratagems, both about engaging in extracurricular activities and keeping a positive attitude towards your PhD, you will be able to boost your motivation and academic performance. I call it resilience.

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