Be kind to yourself in all the upheaval

Helen Whitehead, a self-funded PhD student at the University of Salford, has faced disruption to her studies, finances and wedding plans thanks to the coronavirus.

Helen Whitehead

If someone would have told me 12 months ago there would be a global pandemic during my PhD, I would have laughed. But it happened and I am nine weeks into my new ‘normal’ working environment. Even with fantastic support from my university, the coronavirus pandemic brings new challenges that I never thought I would face.

University life

I love being a student at the University of Salford. I completed my undergraduate here and then progressed on to my PhD. The community, the buildings, the people and the park it sits next to bring me a lot of happiness. When the university went into full lockdown, I lost all sense of what I was doing from one day to the next. I felt lost. For the first week, I didn’t do much of my research as I was so caught up in the news and the daily death toll updates. I felt trapped. Everything got on my nerves, from my fiancé being at home on his days off work to the neighbour’s children screaming early in the morning. I missed my daily routine that I was so used to.

When the university went into full lockdown, I lost all sense of what I was doing from one day to the next.

As the university adjusted to being online, I started to plan my weeks again and book onto online training and access resources that had been provided. Our doctoral school started to email us to let us know how we can stay in contact through the pandemic and provided so many useful resources. My supervisors have been so supportive, I can’t thank them enough. I am in constant contact with them, although getting used to online meetings took a while.

Maintaining a work-life balance is hard, even when we aren’t going through a global pandemic. But I have an office at my house and I have firm working hours. When I am not working on my research or at my part-time job, I make sure I exercise and do non-work related hobbies to keep myself engaged.

Financial implications

As a self-funded PhD student, I need an income every month. Before the furlough scheme was introduced, my employer put me on 12 weeks unpaid leave which of course sent me into panic. All I could think about was: how will I put food on the table and how will I pay my mortgage? I was in complete panic mode.

The worries of working in a supermarket during a pandemic comes with its own strains

As a result, I was forced to find a new part-time job as quickly as I could. I managed to find a job at a local supermarket. I really enjoy working there and their support throughout the pandemic has been amazing. However, the worries of working in a supermarket during a pandemic does come with its own mental and physical strains and it takes a while to wind down when I get home after a shift.

Home life

This year was supposed to be one of the best years of my life, as I was due to get married on the 30 May and go on my honeymoon to Thailand. As the pandemic situation worsened globally and began to seriously impact the UK, my fiancé and I made the decision to postpone our wedding and with that a lot of tears were shed from both our families and friends.

And finally…

We are all in this together and the impact of the pandemic has affected us all in different ways. Many people are going through a lot right now including upheaval, loss and missing important events. The impact the pandemic is having on research, careers and plans for the future is worrying for many of us at the moment. In times of uncertainty, it can be easy to feel at a loss of what to do with yourself and feel a little hopeless but be kind to yourself and remember everything will get better, sooner or later.

Helen Whitehead is a self-funded PhD student at the University of Salford and a new member of our Membership Committee.