BLOG: A PhD, a pandemic and 'you're on mute!'


'The future has a way of arriving unannounced' ~ George F. Will

 Oh, the future, the times we live in and the times we live through, some of which can be expected and even predicted. But as I worked on finalising my PhD in early 2020 I certainly did not predict that I would have to defend my work via Zoom or be sitting in front of a computer screen waiting for my committee to come back from a breakout room to hear those glorious words, “Dr Coker, are you able to hear us?” as opposed to being welcomed back into a conference room!

 'You’re on mute!' has to be the quote of 2020 as we steered our lives professionally and socially through virtual platforms like this.

 It wasn’t just us individuals navigating our way, what do you do when you are a society that provides a yearly meeting to keep your members connected and educated? The answer – you adapt!  I was so pleased when ISCoS announced its first fully virtual annual scientific meeting last September rather than cancelling or rescheduling. This was incredibly invaluable to an early careers researcher like myself - to still be able to access the posters, sit in the sessions and reach out to colleagues and peers through the platform provided. We were even able to visit virtual expo booths and have conversations with vendors!

 The innovation continued with such initiatives as launching an official podcast series and the first regional symposium delivered virtually this year. I was also appointed as social media lead and work with the team to increase the reach for ISCoS but to make connecting with its members more accessible than ever. This is why a society like ISCoS is so invaluable to its members and offers much-needed help and direction for researchers. With the launch of series two of our podcast series, I found episode one, which covered the research of PhD student Sam Brady and his work on 'The History of the Sports Wheelchair,' to be especially interesting!

 Speaking with Sam I discovered he also wrote a blog, 'Doing a PhD during a pandemic’, which inspired this one.

 ‘ last year has been very similar to everyone else’s – full of feelings of stress and worry, a lack of motivation and focus, and struggling with the shift to a remote world. Even in normal circumstances, PhDs are pretty isolating experiences, so the combination of these factors was challenging to say the least.’ ~ Sam Brady

 It got me thinking about my own experience and the experience of thousands of researchers during this time. So have such platforms offered a lifeline to researchers?

 Wherever you are in your PhD journey, you face many challenges, such as collaborating with experts, generating research ideas, finding the appropriate mentor, funding, and balancing work and life. Being a PhD can be all-consuming and lonely, even during a non-pandemic time. I am fortunate that I was at the dissertation writing stage – the pandemic was actually very timely for me. But I did miss the celebrations that normally would have been the culmination of seven years of hard work.  I celebrated my successful defense by shutting down the computer, closing the “office” door in my condo, joining my two dogs on the sofa with a glass of wine (for me, of course), and sending a bunch of texts.

 I can tell you that my ‘on mute’ year has taught me that you have to adapt and use the tools at your disposal. Be inventive, embrace new technologies, connect in every way you can. ASK FOR HELP, reach out, ask questions, and be inspired by others in your field by their work and how they are adapting. Join in, whether that be on social media or getting involved with committees such as those held in ISCoS.

 I hope to see you at this year's 60th ISCoS Annual meeting – please reach out to me on social media and tell me you are coming! We’ll start having conversations now!

 So, my biggest tip as a class of 2020 PhD survivor? Whatever you do, make sure you are NOT on mute!



Dr Jenn Coker ~ 2021

 PS – if you need to set the mood while you’re writing or analysing data, try this song by Ambrym called, appropriately, “You’re on Mute.”

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