Evanthia Koukouli, Social Statistics, Lancaster University, 2018 Cohort
Many things have changed due to the pandemic, one of which is our working life. Even though I used to think that working from home wouldn’t be a problem for me, it ended up being far more challenging. For a long time, I alternated between working for more than 10 hours per day and not working at all due to lack of motivation and tiredness. In particular, during the first weeks, the change to my working environment made me super productive. After a while, though, things started to go in the opposite direction. My concentration became worse than ever and I felt that I was beginning to lose my motivation. Nevertheless, there were a lot of things that helped me stay calm, confident and positive.
Staying at home was an amazing opportunity to focus on my well-being rather than only on my PhD progress. I started a more healthy lifestyle, eating better, following an at-home yoga routine, online dance classes and other workout programs. Getting rid of the large amount of time spent on commuting, I found time to spend on many of my hobbies including reading, painting and playing music. I also recognised the importance of having an organised and beautiful personal space. Besides, I discovered new interests and I decided that I would like to enhance my everyday life with more creative activities. All of the above helped me decompress, stay mentally healthy during social distancing and become productive even when I was working for 2 instead of 8 hours.
Interestingly, even though the last months have affected my productivity, the lack of concentration made me more motivated to do quality work during the few hours I was working. I became better organised since online meetings were a real challenge to me due to the nature of my PhD – it is very difficult to discuss statistics without a whiteboard or pen and a piece of paper. I also learned how to keep my mind clear and when to stop forcing myself to work when it was impossible.
During the lockdown, I attended my first international conference online. It was an excellent opportunity to escape my everyday routine while exploring the current advancements in my field and meeting researchers from all over the world. To be honest, I could never have imagined how enjoyable an online conference could be! Attending talks was never easier since you could watch a presentation whenever and wherever you wanted. Besides, all presentations and posters remain available online for the next few months so that attendees can watch missed talks or presentations, or re-watch parts that they found compelling. As a presenter myself, let me say that presenting my research was never less stressful which made the whole experience extremely pleasurable.
The real challenge, though, came while trying to increase my network. Meeting new people was sometimes difficult with online coffee meetings becoming either too crowded or too awkward, especially when there was not much communication with many people staying silent behind their muted microphones or only a few interacting with each other. For me, getting to know new people online in front of so many other strangers was a real challenge since I often felt exposed and stressed. Yet, I was impressed when I attended a couple of coffee meetings with interactive online activities. Hosts (organisers or other volunteers) were preparing questions where all of the attendees had the chance to answer. For example, the questions included: where are we from, what are we doing, going up to tell two truths and one lie about ourselves made interaction with other researchers far easier and fun. These online chats allowed me not only to meet people working in my field but also introduce myself to them effortlessly.
I am so impressed by how well this online conference worked for me. The benefits of attending the conference online are so many, that this would be my preferred method of attendance. It’s important to mention the monetary savings, since all attendees participated in an international conference from the comfort of their home without spending money on travel and accommodation expenses. Overall, it was a fruitful experience and I hope that the pandemic will create the opportunity to initiate a new era where conference attendance will be available not only in person but online as well.