The sun is shining, the flowers are starting to bloom, and British summertime is just around the corner. What better time to stay locked in your house? That’s the latest (and necessary) message from the government regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and (however frustrating it might be) we must follow the advice to stop the spread.

In the great British tradition of making the best out of a bad situation, today we’ll be talking about how to use this unique opportunity to get ahead in your studies. We’ll be getting tips and tricks on studying in isolation from UKCBC’s senior lecturer (and Doctor of Philosophy), Brianna Wyatt.

As every PhD student knows, completing a doctorate involves long stretches of time spent studying alone, and Brianna’s memories of this challenging period are still very fresh. She obtained her PhD in October 2019 – the end of a four-year journey during which some unwanted guests – procrastination, burn out and self-doubt – invited themselves around.

Thank for joining us, Brianna. So, what were the most challenging parts of studying in isolation for you?

Probably going all day without breaks. For me, once I am on a roll I find it hard to stop and take breaks. So then I would be completely burnt out by the end of the day and have no motivation the next day. It takes a toll on both your mental state and your physical state – my body would ache from sitting in one place for hours on end.

Trying to balance studying with my personal life was challenging at times. I would have to self-isolate in a sense to get things done by their deadlines (I tend to procrastinate). So my friends would have to wait or go without me – which then, of course, made me miss out – but it was my own doing from my procrastination.

Sometimes working independently from home could be frustrating when I needed to ask my supervisors a question and had to wait on the email system. If it was something urgent then I would put it as ‘high priority’ and write URGENT as the header so they would know I needed an answer straight away. That was usually when I had a deadline to submit something.

Do you have any practical steps/strategies for studying in isolation that helped you when you were in a particularly isolated period (the month before first submission springs to mind)?

Definitely make time for yourself. It is quite easy to work a lot and forget to take breaks. This can lead to burn-out and you can quickly lead to a lack of motivation to continue.

Set a schedule of when you will work and when you will stop – and then actually stick to that plan. If you tell your family you are going to stop working by 6 pm, STOP WORKING BY 6 PM. Don’t let them feel like your schoolwork is more important. There needs to be a balance.

Keep a notebook for ideas. So many times, I had a good idea to research and I didn’t write it down. Inevitably I couldn’t remember the idea later.

Remember to hydrate while working. I would often just work and not take any breaks, which made me end up losing energy, and my work inevitably suffered.

Also determine when you work best. For me, I work best in the brunch hours – later morning early afternoon before lunch. I know others who work best first thing in the morning or even in the wee early hours after everyone else is in bed.

How can students make the most out of the potential lockdown?

Use technology. You can video chat with people through FaceTime, WhatsApp, FB, Instant Messenger, Skype, Zoom, etc and continue collaborating with your peers. And try to make use of video calls; seeing people is important – we are (for the most part) visual creatures.

Make use of the freedoms we still have (but be sensible). Exercise outside in the fresh air when possible.

Don’t watch the news all day long. It’s a known stressor, so turn it off. You only need to watch first thing in the morning to see what the new updates are and then again at night to see if there were any developments throughout the day. Phone notifications will probably keep you aware of any major developments – another reason to turn the news off.

Thanks to Brianna for sharing her tips and tricks for making the most out of this challenging period. Be sure to check out some of the great resources available at Learn NextMOOCUdemySkillShare and LinkedIn Learning for practical guides on organising your time, critical thinking in academia, and effective business communication. Each course you complete can add value to your professional profile and help improve your grades.

Got any tips to add? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

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