Image (above): Remy soaks up some sun and watches the world go by while Charuni prepares for her confirmation. Credit: Charuni Pathmeswaran.

Post by Charuni Pathmeswaran
(This post originally appeared in Charuni’s blog at Climate Chai. You can read the original post here).

Preparing for my PhD confirmation with the added stress associated with physical distancing and working from home was made easier by my supervisors who have been super-supportive since day one, my friends and family who have been constantly checking in on me, and my aunt and uncle who have taken me under their wing. This blog post is about navigating my PhD during a pandemic.

The Climate Change Research Centre had its Annual Postgrad Review round last week. There are three types of reviews that take place at each round: the PhD confirmation, the formal review and the informal. The PhD confirmation takes place within one year of the start of your candidature. For their confirmation, each student prepares a confirmation report (~ PhD research proposal), delivers a 15-minute talk and faces an hour-long meeting with their designated panel. After the confirmation, a candidate’s progress is reviewed (informally) every six months and (formally) every twelve months, until the end of the candidature. Being eleven months into my PhD, I had my confirmation during last week’s round of reviews

On the day of my review, I was feeling quite nervous. Instead of facing a packed seminar room, I sat comfortably at my desk and gave my talk via Zoom. It was a strange experience because it felt like I was talking to my screen. Every now and then I had to remind myself that there were 30+ people listening in. Except for a few technical glitches, everyone’s talks went smoothly. A few hours later I had my panel meeting, which was also on Zoom. I was asked a lot of questions and there was some interesting discussion around my proposed work on terrestrial and marine heatwaves. When it was finally over, I felt a huge sense of relief.

As soon as my meeting finished, I called my parents and then I went for a run. It felt very liberating. I decided to relax during the next few days. I used this time to catch up with friends and family as well as to get back into reading. COVID-19 did get in the way of my initial post-confirmation plans but it still could not take away the sense of relief and happiness I now feel, having achieved my first milestone.

Images: Some of the small things that helped Charuni through the stresses of the pandemic – card games, walks in the park, and cakes. Credit: Charuni Pathmeswaran.

The last few weeks were rather stressful because there were days when I had writer’s block and I could not get any words on paper. I was also stuck with a bit of analysis I wanted to get done in time for my review. On such days, I just had to tell myself that I would eventually get the work done. I made sure I went outdoors every day for either a walk or a run. Staying physically active helped maintain my mental energy levels. As did my morning yoga/meditation and evening Netflix sessions.

This past year has a been a steep learning curve for me (as it is for most PhD students). I have learnt so much and I have come to understand my project even more. I have also learnt a few things about myself. While it’s okay to be self-critical to a certain extent it is also important to know when to pat yourself on the back. The right dose of self-confidence can help you navigate around your PhD (and anything else in life).

A PhD is tough; steering through it during a pandemic is tougher. I’ve learnt that it’s easier to take things one day at a time. It’s okay if you can’t see the light at the end of the (PhD or COVID-19) tunnel, as long as you have a bit of light wherever you are now, to get you through the day 🙂