Dealing with the ‘wicked problem’ of doing a Ph.D. during a pandemic – Tieza Mica Santos

Doing a Ph.D. is arguably one of the most difficult undertakings that scholars can pursue in their academic careers. While research topics and work styles of candidates vary, those who come out from the experience share a common understanding of the struggles and challenges that come with it.

Our cohort started with our Ph.D. journey a year ago, about the time when countries around the world started declaring lockdown measures in response to the pandemic. As with everyone else, I was caught off guard. Before committing to a three-year Ph.D. program, I prepared myself mentally and emotionally in anticipation of the long hours, occasional disappointments, and the unpredictability of the lengthy and complex process that would demand of me. I was ready, except for this.

One year later, I have begun to accept that it may take some time to regain a sense of normalcy, albeit not without occasional worries. It is not exactly the pressure of achieving the goals and objectives I have set for my research that is my current source of anxiety. At the core of it is the uncertainty that this pandemic brings to everyone. However, as this drags on, it is necessary to develop resilience to adapt and move forward. While there is no one-size-fits-all guidebook to doing a Ph.D. let alone, during a pandemic, I found these strategies helped me cope the best way possible:

  1. Making mental and physical health a priority by exploring strategies that help develop and embrace a wellness mindset.
  2. Establishing open communication with my supervisor, who has been my main support in navigating through the challenges and limitations of doing a Ph.D. in this circumstance.
  3. Identifying specific areas of difficulties (i.e., accessing library materials, confusion with the methodology, or physical health impediments). Specifying concrete issues and problems helped me and my supervisor identify possible solutions to move forward.
  4. Defining the most comfortable working space. While some of us have resource limitations to set up a home office, what helped me was to identify a small corner in my living area that I can use exclusively for work.
  5. Having an ally or a buddy and trusting that the guidance and full support of my supervisor and colleagues at the institute will keep me on track and motivate me to keep moving forward amidst the current global challenge.

Undeniably, these strategies do not offer a panacea for all Ph.D. candidates to effectively cope in this situation. Nonetheless, I hope to encourage others to cultivate personal resilience and confidence to complete their Ph.D. journey no matter how hard it may seem. Openly acknowledging and avoiding feeling guilty about our struggles as Ph.D. candidates not only safeguard one’s overall wellness but also brings us one step closer to achieving our personal and professional goals.