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SECG Blog - Disruptions to study

What you can do when COVID-19 disrupts your degree

Danielle Cave, SECG Communications Team & PhD Candidate

There is no doubt that in 2020, COVID-19 has changed the way we work and study. For many PhD students, this has resulted in a considerable disruption to their degree progression. Data collection involving humans, particularly vulnerable populations such as older adults has come to a crashing halt and there is uncertainty around when it can safely resume.

I acknowledge that depending on what stage of your candidature you are up to, the level of disruption varies. However, your degree is meant to be a learning opportunity and there are many ways you can use this time productively. In particular, this might be the perfect opportunity to learn new skills or catch up on PhD related tasks that you have been meaning to get to.

Here is a list of my suggestions:

  • Writing, writing and more writing. Write papers, milestone documents or your thesis chapters now, instead of leaving these tasks until the last minute. Have a think about what writing you can do during this period.
  • Publishing papers. Now that you’ve caught up on writing, format your work and submit it to a journal.
  • Applying for ethics approval. Regardless if your plan has changed or not, you can use this time to plan future studies and apply for ethics. That way once data collection resumes you will be ready to go.
  • Improving your digital identity. Have you been neglecting your professional social media outlets, such as Twitter or LinkedIn? Use this time as an opportunity to organise your professional life (you’ll thank yourself later). Here you can find 10 simple tips to improve the visibility of you and your research
  • Updating your CV. Alongside your digital identify check, you could also use this time to update your CV. Here you can find tips on writing an effective academic CV.
  • Upskilling. Most universities offer courses on how to use software programs. Why not sign up to learn how to use NVivo 12 for your qualitative research or brush up your knowledge on statistics for your quantitative research? You could also sign up for courses related to building your communication skills, writing skills or preparing you for the job market.
  • Participating in continuing professional development (CPD). Some of you (like myself) may be required to complete a certain number of CPD hours per year. There are free webinars available at this time, including from AAG and many face-to-face workshops have gone virtual. Tune in from the comfort of your home and learn something new.
  • Participating in the 3MT competition. The 3MT competition has gone virtual for 2020 and if you have extra time of your hands, then why not enter the competition at your university and submit a video of yourself communicating your research?
  • Pitching an article. Do you have newly published research or an idea for an article? Why not pitch it to The Conversation, Australian Ageing Agenda or Aged Care Insite?
  • Volunteering. Do you have the capacity to help others during this time? Sign up to volunteer at your local Meals on Wheels (making or delivering meals), or at Red Cross (providing a companionship and social support service via phone calls) and help out community-dwelling older adults who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. Alternatively, volunteer to present your research virtually at your School or Institute’s research seminars or to your research group. Conferences may be cancelled or going virtual for 2020, so use this as an opportunity to practice presenting.
  • Changing your plan. I think all PhD students dread having to change their plan, but in some situations it may be required. Maintain regular contact with your supervisors and make sure that your plan is still achievable.

You may be feeling a bit lost with your Gantt Chart sliding down the drain, but use this disruption to pivot your candidature and build skills that will help you in your future career. Don’t forget that doing a PhD can be stressful under normal circumstances. Remember to be kind to yourself and make sure you’re taking care of your health during these challenging times!

02 July 2020


Danielle is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and PhD Candidate. Danielle holds a Master of Dietetics Studies from The University of Queensland and a Bachelor of Nutrition Science from Queensland University of Technology. Her research interests are nutrition for older adults, particularly those living in aged care homes. Her doctorate research focuses on exploring the sustainability of food fortification within the foodservice systems of aged care homes.

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