So many of our experiences are different this year, and starting a PhD is no exception. I’m hoping this post will help to alleviate some of the ‘unknowns’ that you may have at the prospect of starting a PhD away from campus.
Receiving your offer…
I received my offer to study for a PhD at York in a pre-COVID world. But as someone who had always commuted to York for my undergraduate degree, I knew that I wanted to carry on doing so for my PhD. Even so, the idea of starting my PhD without the same academic atmosphere felt a little overwhelming.
However, these feelings were quickly alleviated by an email outlining the university policies for remote learning. Temporary Remote Research (TRR) allows postgraduate researchers to temporarily study away from campus without having to commit to distance learning permanently.
What should I ‘pack’?
So this year’s packing list might not be the most conventional. But reflecting back on these past few months, I found remote working can be made more productive (and more comfortable!) with the following:
- A laptop or device – your remote gateway to the university!
- Headphones – everyone is really understanding of unavoidable background noises or unanticipated visitors (and a cat always brightens up a zoom meeting!) But it can be useful to have headphones handy to help you focus.
- A comfortable chair – you may be spending more time sitting than usual, so a cushion or two helps to attend meetings in comfort.
- Familiarise yourself with Zoom and Google Meet. This is the main software I’ve used so far, and it’s always good to know where the mute button is! (The library offers really helpful user guides for these).
- Plan a good working routine – use the flexibility with your working hours to your advantage. Think about when you work best and make sure you plan for screen breaks!
As the start date approaches…
A couple of months prior to my start date, I received emails pointing me in the direction of Freshers’ events, college activities, and online inductions tasks. I was given plenty of advanced notice on these events and sent reminder emails, so I already felt part of the community.
I found this welcome page extremely useful. It summarises key pre and post enrolment information to help orientate you to both the University and remote studying.
The induction webinar
I would encourage everyone to attend the induction webinar. It is an easily accessible and welcoming tour of everything you could wish to know about becoming a postgraduate researcher at York. You will be able to put faces to the names of members of the support and academic staff. Plus learn about the university-wide support networks, which are there to help you succeed.
Also, as with most key events, the induction is recorded as a series of videos. So I could focus on listening to the vast research-related and extracurricular opportunities offered at York.
The first few weeks…
After the first week of introductory zoom calls, I found it useful to take advantage of the Postgraduate Researcher buddy scheme. I have found my meetings helpful to voice my thoughts in a safe environment with someone who remembers first-year jitters.
The Graduate Student’s Association (GSA) networks are also very useful for helping you make professional and friendly connections online. I became the network leader for the Disabled Student’s Network and started a WhatsApp group for new PhD students within my department.
It was made easier to reach people via the postgraduate Facebook page. This is a super friendly platform to say hello and feel connected within your new community.
So what is it like to have an online supervision meeting?
As I approached the first meeting with my supervisors, I was unsure of how it might work. However, all my supervision meetings have been very productive and I was able to gain as much from them as an in-person meeting.
Preparation is key for online meetings. I find them most productive when I have submitted work prior to the meeting. As well as receiving written feedback, the work often creates a good focus for discussion.
I have also been able to build my confidence in presenting skills. This is a useful skill for any online job interviews or networking events!
So as the near future is set to remain online, York has helpfully established a Coronavirus website. This is regularly updated with national and university level information and policies.
These policies, such as offering a Christmas hamper to students staying in York over the holidays, support the sense of community which still thrives among both campus and remote learners.