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Leniency due to COVID lockdowns?


User: n00bster - 18 March 2022 15:17

Hi All,

First time poster here but I have read many posts over the years.
I'm wondering if anyone has recently finished their PhD and completed their viva after experiencing severe disruption from COVID lockdowns. Did you feel that there was more leniency due to the issues we all faced?

In the UK, the COVID lockdowns hit as I was about halfway through the 3rd year of my 4 year PhD and I did not really get lab access again for over a year. The timing of this could not have been worse for me. Upto this point, all my experimental work had been practice runs. Some work was decent but the vast majority was half completed experiments or not done in triplicate etc. At the time the lockdowns came into place I had a list of the experiments I need to do to get the data for my thesis. I got hardly any of this done as I literally had a few months to collect data that I was expecting to take 18 months.

On top of this, I have two disabled children and my wife is a key worker. During the lockdowns I was responsible for child care and schooling so I could not even really work on my thesis. Fortunately my supervisor was understanding and did not ask me to complete anything during this time.

I am now fast approaching my hand-in date (end of this month!) and I feel my thesis is a load of rubbish.... It is based almost entirely on incomplete data, most of the chapters have reasonable data at the start but the concluding experiments are not done etc. To top it off, my supervisor has pretty much gone AWOL since lockdown and has not even looked at my thesis to offer any feedback. Sometime I genuinely feel like I should bin it and move on...

I do get to submit a COVID Impact Statement (which is practically a book in itself) but I fear that my thesis will just be binned as a terrible piece of work (which it is in many ways as I don't have any good data to back up my claims).

Thank you for reading, if you have any advice or thoughts please leave it below :)

User: lastYearWriter - 21 March 2022 10:03

Hello n00bster,

I wanted to reply to your post because it seemed very similar to my situation-although I still have about 11 months until my 'official' hand in date. I have had to rely on secondary and simulated data for a lot of my analysis due to not being able to carry out the planned data collection because of the Covid pandemic.

I cannot offer you any certainty about what will happen when you hand in your thesis or when you come to defend it in the viva. However, I will say doing a PhD at any time is an enormous challenge, but doing it in the midst of a global pandemic is an even greater challenge. If you have got this far with your research, kept your family and yourself safe, I say, "very well done!" and don't BIN that thesis!

Academia in general is not very good at talking about mistakes, failed experiments, rough drafts or wrong-turns. I feel it every time I read an article in a high-impact journal or the submitted theses of previous students in my research group. There is little room to discuss the challenges, the mistakes and the need to sometimes change course. All these things have happened to my research and to every single person who has ever attempted to do anything worthwhile in whatever field of research they are engaging in-even if most high ranking Professors will never dare admit that they ever made a mistake or wrote a clumsy paragraph.

I can offer you the things I did that have helped me so far

1. Accept to yourself that the Thesis will never be perfect. It is your first attempt at a (mostly solo) large scale research project. Your advisors and examiners are there to help you get better not just to criticise.
2. Access secondary data in your research field if you can to complete analysis
3. Find a somebody in your institution outside your supervisory team that can take a look at some of your thesis chapters and give you some feedback on what else might be needed. I was lucky that a person who had completed the same programme was still at the University in a post-doc role. They provided good insight into the process of getting to the PhD finish line.
4. Write everything down in your methodology chapter and back it up with evidence from literature that these methods/techniques/analysis have been used before even if they are not the most ideal ones. Think about what was left unfinished or incomplete-maybe that will be your next research project
5. Look after yourself and your family. The thesis often feels like a demanding child, but it will never love you back :)