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Starting a PhD in the Middle of a Global Pandemic

It has been strange year. It's even stranger starting something completely new in your life that is supposed to be extremely exciting and fulfilling but half of your expectations have been stripped away due to a viral global pandemic. I'm just over a month into my PhD course and, as I was always planning to share how I've found this past month, I thought it might be useful to share my thoughts of my experience so far in case it helps others in the same position or future PhD students to not feel so alone in their feelings.

When I got the news that I'd secured a place in Newcastle, I was of course extremely thrilled and looking forward to the start of something new, in a new city with the opportunity to meet new people and open my mind and eyes to a different type of life. Naively like a lot of people, I though that the restrictions that began in March would quickly ease off and we could get back to normality and routine, meaning that my adventure would at least have the chance to live up to my expectations. It didn’t take long for me to realise that my expectations would have to be swiftly adjusted. The end of September saw me moving country/city, turning 23 and starting a new job all in 10 days. Despite the whirlwind of emotions that engulfed each day, I really had to take some time to myself to understand that I wouldn't have the comfort blanket of a social life to help with the 'newness' of everything. As an extrovert and sociable person, this was, and still is quite hard for me.

The first day of my PhD was intense to say the least but I'm so glad for it now. My supervisor got me started on experiments from day one which allowed me to jump straight into the deep end, learning as I go along. Additionally, as I'm now starting to understand what's required of me in terms of fulfilling my project, I'm able to start formulating high-level and broad questions that I can answer throughout my 4 years, which will inevitably help streamline my reading and experimental design in months and years to come. I'm just about to start week 7 of my PhD and I feel like I've accomplished more than I could have imagined, personally and professionally. Soon, I'll be finalising an experiment which introduces a mutation in the gene that produces the protein I'm studying, I'll have completed (in reality just beginning) a coding course that will help with all of my data handling/visualisation and of course I have learned an enormous amount and will continue to do so.

Personally, I really have to give myself credit for the self-awareness I've gained since March. As I mentioned in my previous blog post about my personal holistic health journey, I decided to start therapy. After my first consultation appointment in August, I chose to begin counselling in October which was around 2 weeks after I started my PhD. I'm in awe every day with how much it has helped with not only what I came to therapy for, but how it's helped me adapt to the change and deal with the pandemic's impact on me. I have been able to reclaim my power in situations I often feel powerless (such as now with the restrictions) by focussing on what is in my control, understand that it’s okay to feel the way I feel on a day-to-day basis and give myself the space to just be me with no external or internal expectations. I've also began journaling which I know will be invaluable on bad days or when I need to reflect on how far I've come.

England is now in a second 'full' lockdown which means that I won't be able to see any of my family and friends for a month (I hope it's just a month) and evenings/weekends will be spent more or less alone as there are no dining places open to meet with people. I'm so thankful for being able to get on well with my flat mate and the other PhD students at work!

I'm not too sure where the next few months will look like but for now, I'm dealing with the situation as best I can and taking it in it's stride. As I'm able to go in to the lab freely, I'm luckily able to actually leave the house for an extended period of time and I can give myself time to fully focus and immerse myself in the work. This year has taken a toll on everyone's health in a different way and I hope that sharing experiences like this will help others feel like they're not the only ones feeling isolated, anxious and to put it plainly a little bit crap. Each day will take us a little closer to the end of the pandemic and that makes me eager to keep going.

I hope you enjoyed reading. Make sure to check out my last blog post about my Favourite Creatives Making an Impact. If you don't already, connect with me on Instagram and subscribe to AnAbundanceofMelanin so you don't miss a post and amazing receive exclusive content!

Until next time,

D x

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