Pandemically Speaking (to the tune of Universally Speaking by RHCP): PhD during Pandemonium

The final year of a PhD is meant to be weird right? But not global pandemic weird…

Photo by Andre Moura from Pexels

I innocently started my third year in September 2019 – full of plans and excitement. I was on track to finish up in three years as this was my funded period. I had been accepted into two conferences, most excitingly one in Canada which would have been my first time travelling outside of Europe! I had been awarded a mental health internship as part of the partnership between the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences and Scottish Government for April 2020. I’d been accepted onto a short course on working with trauma. I had just competed in a heat of the University of Glasgow’s three minute thesis competition and been selected as one of the representatives for the College of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences. I’d won a writing competition for writing creatively about how much I loved my thesis. Everything was going great! And then everything was paused…. postponed… cancelled.

I suppose in some ways that’s why I wanted to start this blog. The final part of my PhD was planned to be full of interaction, getting to take my findings out and discuss them with other people and see what they thought. It ended up being me inside my flat for the best part of a year – able to discuss my work with my supervisors for an hour each month but barely anybody else. I was and am still mega keen to get my findings shared as widely as possible, but the pandemic made that more challenging than I ever could have anticipated and so I am still figuring out how to do this well. Suggestions on the back of a post-card….

I think the pandemic PhD made me realise that one of the strangest (and that’s saying something) things about the PhD that I didn’t realise before ‘finishing up’ is that maybe it will never feel finished?! I think that probably would have been the case without a pandemic, but it’s definitely been the case for me.

The first finish line was when I handed it in was to my ‘internal reader’ was the end of October 2020 (3 years and 1 month after I had started). This is a process specific to my department, where someone who has not been involved in your project (I hadn’t ever spoken to my internal reader before I met with her for this) reads your thesis and gives you feedback from an external perspective and tells you whether you can submit. I was lucky mine was happy with my thesis and I submitted right at the start of Dember 2020 (after she’d had a chance to look it over and meet with me to discuss) – the second finish line. The third was my viva in March 2021 which I passed with minor corrections! Then there was handing in my corrections to my examiners, then sending it off to the university, then getting a copy hardbound, and finally last week when, over a year after sending it to my internal reader, I received my degree certificate in the post, and next week when my graduation ceremony is (I won’t be attending but my name is in absentia in the programme).

But it still doesn’t feel finished. Maybe it’s the pandemic… there’s no big celebration. Doing a remote viva meant there were no supervisors, peers or colleagues around – just me, my examiner and my chair in a zoom room. When they went away to deliberate I had to watch my computer screen anxiously until they reapeared by zoom-magic and let me know that I had passed – once they had said well done and hung up the line, I sent my supervisors a quick email to say it had gone well, and then it was just me and my partner in our living room feeling exhausted and putting our furniture back in its rightful places. To say it was an anti-climax was an under-statement.

Although my pal did make me these amazing biscuits!

But I remain extremely excited about the project, it’s findings and their potential impact. It was the first study to specifically look at LGBT+ young people’s suicidal thoughts and attempts in Scotland, and I hope to use it as the foundations for future work that I have planned in my head (if I can find the funding!!). I am excitedly seeking out and taking all opportunities to tell people about the findings through a range of talks (you can watch a selection of them here), and through writing both for lay and academic audiences. So despite the ways in which finishing the PhD did feel anti-climatic, and in some ways like it might never end. In other ways, the future of this work feels exciting, inspiring and full of potential so watch this space!

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