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 by Maria Faleeva
, posted on 15 Dec '20

Video: My Experience Starting a PhD During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maria Faleeva is our current Student Ambassador and the recipient of the 2020-21 FindAPhD Scholarship. Step inside her lab and see what her routine is like as she carries on with her research during the pandemic.

With this year being somewhat different to what I expected the first year of my PhD to be like, I decided to document a full week for me so you can see what's the same about studying, what we're doing differently and what I've learnt so far studying for my PhD at King's College London during a pandemic!

Video transcript

Hey guys! I thought I would make a little week in the life of a PhD student during the pandemic. I know that a lot of you guys are thinking about doing PhD studies next year. But, because of this whole lockdown and the current situation, there is a lot of uncertainty whether to pursue further studies at the moment – or whether it’s best to wait. And so I thought I’d just provide a little video for clarification on how it actually is at the moment. Because some things are definitely different, but there are things that are ever constant. I hope you guys enjoy the video and that it provides a little clarification on what conducting postgraduate studies at the moment will be like!

So, on Sunday evening, it is very important that you log in your booking hours for the week ahead of you and the next week as well. This essentially means you are telling the university at what time you are going to be in which room or using which tool, or microscope, in the lab that you need. This is really different to what it was like for me before, because you could just go in at any time, use anything at any time, as long as it wasn’t being used by another person. But this really forces you to structure your week ahead by the hour, which sometimes is very difficult to keep track of, or plan ahead, but this is something that I am slowly learning to do!

And then the other thing is that you need to prepare for the lab meeting that also happens on Monday (well, mine happens on Monday). Usually they happen in person, but now, because not everyone can actually go into the lab at the same time, they happen on Microsoft Teams. And this is also slightly different because there is no pressure to turn on your camera, so the person that is presenting that week ends up speaking to a lot of initials on a blank screen. . . This also really changes the dynamic of the discussion after the presentation.

So, upon finishing the lab meeting I am off to lab! And during this time I either call my mum, or listen to some audiobooks, or listen to music. Upon arrival into lab, the main difference is that we are no longer allowed to use elevators, because of corona, so up four flights of stairs I go!

I’m not gonna lie, I’m always really worried when checking my cells after the weekend, because I am always scared that they have died or something. . . but here they all are, and I am hoping that this week they have finally achieved the condition that I want them to be in so that I can conduct my experiments. . . (side note: they were almost ready).

Today is a little bit of an interesting day. I’m based in two campuses, one in Denmark Hill, and the other one near London Bridge, which are half an hour’s bus journey apart. And today I am going to learn how to do one of my main techniques for my PhD project, and I need to bring samples along with it. But the issue is that I have to transport this box of samples on the bus, and I’m not really quite sure how it’s gonna go, so let’s find out!

A little update on how today went: it seems that my cells didn’t really enjoy being rocked about on a bus for a half hour, so it seems that I’m going to have to think about how I am going to conduct one part of my experiment in one place and then the other half in a different place, which is honestly not a problem I thought I would have to deal with. But I think this is the part that stays the same whether you are in a global pandemic or not! There are always going to be these little things and little issues that you have to work out, so don’t worry guys. . . that part is staying the same!

Here I’ve dragged along the other PhD student that is in the lab with me at the moment.


How have things changed in this lab, specifically with the pandemic? Because you were here doing your Masters beforehand and now you’re doing your PhD, so what are the key differences you find?

Yeah, I was here for my Masters last year, and the main thing that’s changed is the organisation of the lab. Nowadays we have to book everything, each room that we are in. Our meetings have started to be online since March and now it keeps going like this. It’s also changed the interaction between people, and that’s completely different because you have to be at a distance, etc.

Yeah, exactly, it’s true, the distance! And, specifically regarding your experiments, do you think that this pandemic has influenced the way that you conduct them, or tarnished your ability to do them, or anything like that?

Well I have to say that, in a sort of way, the pandemic has helped me to understand how to be more efficient in terms of experiments. But, at the same time, when you are doing research, you can bump into any kind of troubles, so. . . You have to be very strict in terms of time due to the pandemic and sometimes you can’t solve a problem in, like, minutes. . .

So there you have it, you guys, a typical week in the life of a PhD student. As you can see with this pandemic, you can still carry out your PhD: you can conduct experiments, you see other members of the lab, and you still meet with your supervisor. But you have to do all of this by adhering to the safety procedures that are in place. And, of course, you are not able to go and do every single experiment that you want right away, because of the time limitations and space limitations, but hopefully, since the situation is on the up (knock on wood), things will get back to normal very shortly.

I hope you guys found this video informative. I wish you the best of luck if you are sending out your applications for a PhD next year. Bye for now!

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