The pandemic came with a lot of firsts and a lot of challenges:First = lockdown, Challenge = getting enough toilet roll.First = working from home, Challenge = sharing a workspace with your partner and their annoying habits.First = wearing masks to supermarkets, shops and everywhere really, Challenge = glasses steaming up whilst wearing masks.
But for my cohort and myself there was a new first and a new challenge:First = starting a PhD during a pandemic, Challenge = trying to meet people and slot into the ecosystem of a university through a screen.
As a first-year postgraduate student, I started my PhD journey in October 2020 (the blissful period right before lockdown 3 when there was still a hope for Christmas). Working from home and lockdown restrictions meant no office environment, no Friday night pub socials and no BBQs on the beach. Instead, we were limited to 1 conversation at a time, between 10 people on a Team’s meeting. 3 months into my PhD, the people I knew from university I could count on two hands. And of those people I knew that included my 2 supervisors. Safe to say, it was not the community feel that I was expecting.
For me, the challenge of starting a PhD during a pandemic was not the science; I have a great supervisory team that help me with that. The challenge for me was the lack of social interaction, the lack of community and the mental health struggles that come with working from home.
In the year 2020/2021 organic blossoming of friendships cannot happen and requires the artificial environment of a screen and as with anything that’s created artificially it requires more effort, more time and more energy. Artificially making friends feels un-natural and uncomfortable, sometimes it’s easier to stick with the devil you know, in your lonely bubble.
I feel hopeful that the lifting of restrictions will lead us back into some form of normality and allow us to explore and find our way through the university social ecosystem. And with the turn of seasons there is more scope for socially distanced walks and outdoor meetings. But for now, I look forward to the day that we can all have a pint in the pub mask free and meet the people I’ve only ever seen through a screen!