I wrote this poem during the third lockdown in the UK. It reflects my experience of staying in one place and not crossing borders between countries for more than a year. The poem has no rhymes but who cares about rhymes nowadays. An imaginative journey in the pandemic world I am on my way to St. Michael’s Mount The train is moving from the North to the South of England I see green fields and fast-flowing hill streams But then I cross the English Channel (or la Manche as they call it in France) And I am thinking about people who cross it Day by day risking their lives And where am I going? To St. Michael’s Mount (or le Mont-Saint-Michel as they call it in France) That welcomes pilgrims with the rise and fall of tides. Alexandrina Vanke 18th March 2021
From November 23, Greater Manchester moved to the local COVID alert level 3 due to the increased infection rate. This information reached me via e-mail as part of the news feed from the University of Manchester, where I am doing my PhD in Sociology. What does it mean for students? We cannot socialise with people from other households in public places. We can neither accept guests at home and in private gardens nor visit other people at their home. But in fact, it means that if you are an international student, you are very likely to continue living in isolation. If you would like to meet friends in person, the only option for you is to walk with them in the park social distancing. Although the rainy Mancunian weather does not permit this much. If you do not want to break the rules, you can merely hang out remotely.
In such a context, I am entering the last stretch to the PhD, which is the most difficult one, as my local friend with a doctoral degree says. In this post, I reflect some challenges, which I face at the final stage of the thesis writing under the local lockdown in Manchester. I explain how I attempt to meet these challenges.
The lack of proper rest
One of the problems, which PhD students with funding face, is that the studentship will run out one day. In my view, it is better to complete your thesis by that moment or at least not shortly afterwards. I know some people will disagree with me saying that it is better to spend more time in the PhD to build a solid CV and improve a publication record.
Well, it depends on your life situation, personal goals and your programme. For example, anthropologists spend at least one year in the field, and it takes more time for them to complete a PhD. It also depends on what academic profile you already have and at what stage of your professional path you are. Bearing this in mind, I worked hard throughout the whole summer and autumn trying to improve the chapters, which I drafted during my third year.
Another problem at this stage is that you need to start applying for jobs or/and elaborate your postdoctoral project if your goal is to continue working in academia. Apart from this, you may need to write some other texts, for example, journal articles, and do a side job in teaching, research or somewhere else. As for me, I entirely focused on improving the thesis draft and preparing an application for the postdoctoral fellowship. I also applied for several jobs. The purpose of this activity was to understand what was happening with the academic labour market during the pandemic and gain experience in applying for positions of different types.
As a result, I did not have enough time for proper rest and sufficient breaks.
- Under the local lockdown, you do not have many opportunities to take proper rest. For me, sunbathing on the lawn with the neighbours in summer and regular walks in the park in autumn was the best solution to this problem. It helped me to keep my mind off the work and the laptop screen. I enjoyed walking, observing squirrels, greeting people accurately social distancing, and breathing in the smell of trees in the park. However, it will be more difficult to make in late autumn.
- Sometimes, I visited a neighbourhood café with a garden, where I enjoyed chatting with a barista, drinking coffee or having lunch in the open air. I know that some students save money and prefer eating at home. I can do nothing with this habit. It cheers me up and increases my productivity. If you find it problematic to go out in the lockdown, you can make a proper meal for yourself and have it watching a good movie.© Photo by the author