Hannah Sawyer, Psychology, University of Liverpool, 2018 Cohort
When COVID-19 started back in March 2020 (remember all the way back then?!), I am sure that not one of us would have imagined that by the time we started the new academic year in October, we would still be in lockdown. It has been a long 8 months being confined to our homes, working in the same make-shift temporary offices, and not being allowed to meet up with anyone outside your household. I miss the comfort of being in my office, surrounded by fellow PhD students and having my supervisors only a few doors away, but with all things being considered I am lucky to be staying well and safe. I am sure that you would agree that completing a PhD during this time, a global pandemic, is challenging in more ways than one. Practically, with the testing delays and constant revision of studies to make sure they fit in with government guidelines that seem to change on a weekly basis, has not been easy and I would be lying if I didn’t say that at certain points during this period, my motivation and morale to do my PhD work had been at an all-time low.
Nevertheless, contingency plans have been put in place and I am now well underway to completing a corpus analysis. Finally, I have a PhD study that can be completed a home. Completing a corpus analysis meant that I needed to learn new skills, mostly different programming languages such as Python and R. Fortunately, being funded by the NWSSDTP and receiving the Research Training Support Grant, meant I was able to attend a number of training courses for this reason. The most recent course I have attended was “Publishing Quality Charts in R using GGplot2” hosted by the Royal Statistical Society. Unsurprisingly, the course was held online but that did not detract from the quality of teaching or my learning experience at all. Perhaps, after 8 months, I am finally getting used to this online learning that has become the new normal. This course introduced how the “Tidyverse” and “GGplot2” packages in R can be used to create publication worthy charts (they are also reproducible which is great for open science). It taught me how to become confident in choosing the most appropriate “geoms” for visualising data and helped me to understand how factors can be used to control the display and order of different chart elements. Overall, I really enjoyed this course and I will definitely be using the skills I learn to produce graphs for my posters and publications throughout my PhD and career. See the picture for one of the creations I made (and yes, you can change the colour scheme which will end up taking you longer to decide upon than making the actual graph!).
More importantly, however, this course did not only equip me with the skills for my PhD but it also helped me regain motivation to complete my “normal” every-day PhD work. Having a break from the monotonous routine of coding endless lines of data was a breath of fresh air and now I feel ready to carry on with my corpus analysis and finishing it (hopefully) soon. Therefore, I would definitely recommend to anyone who needs to learn these type of skills during their PhD that now is the time to do it. I mean, when else would you be able to learn different programming languages from the comfort of your own home and in your pyjamas?
I also highly recommend the courses hosted by the Royal Statistical Society. For me, they were the right level of difficulty, useful and fun. They also give you some form of social interaction, something that is hard to come by these days. If you want to find out more about the Royal Statistical Society and the courses they offer then you can see their website here: https://rss.org.uk/training-events/training/public-courses/ and if you have any questions then please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me on: @HSawyer01.