Scientist without a lab? A PGR guide to COVID-19

Struggling to know what to do while not in the Lab? Why not check out Dr Zoe Ayres poster of things you can be working on. 

Scientist without the field? A PGR guide to COVID-19

Struggling to know what to do while not in the field? Why not check out Dr Zoe Ayres Poster‌ on things you can be working on. 

Introduction to Mindfulness

An introduction to Mindful Meditation led by Buddhist Chaplain John Danvers. 

Home Working Tips

We are living through unprecedented times and although it is not possible for us to continue our work as normal, you may be surprised about how much you can do from home. This does require some adjustments to the way you work and maybe how you work, but you are certainly not alone and there is continued support from the Doctoral College , including the dedicated COVID-19 information page.

Across the country, thousands of academics, professional services staff and students are currently getting to grips with a practice that is very unfamiliar to many – working at home*. Over the past few weeks, we have seen colleagues kitchens, lounges and bedrooms becoming makeshift offices. Working from home can be a challenge, but for some with a few adjustments, you can be really productive. 

We understand that the prospect of spending the foreseeable future away from the University’s physical space may be a daunting prospect for a variety of reasons. However, it can help to stay focused on work as much as possible and below we shared some key tips to working from home. If you think something is missing or there is something in particular you have found helpful when working from home, please email: doctoral.college@exeter.ac.uk and we will add this to this webpage.

*Please note that we do recognise that not all PGRs/ECRs will be able to continue to work during this time, if you are a PGR who cannot continue to work please check our FAQs page and if you are a ECR please check the staff pages.

Decide on your daily 'routine' and try and maintain this. Include everything from when you are plan to wake and go to sleep, to your work plan, relaxation, and the social contact you will have through digital/phone calls. Routines help keep us focused and productive, as well as settling our anxities. A daily routine might look something like this:

Here is an example day routine

We recommend you treat your research as a 9-5 job. This does not mean that you have to work 9-5 everyday, but that you should work for around 7 hours a day over 5 days if you are full time, making sure that you include time for a lunch break away from your desk. You can manage your working days and hours around your preferences and other commitments.

We also recommend that you wear what you would normally would to the University, this may seem that it makes no difference if you stay in your dressing gown for example, but it does help with your mindset. 

As you may no longer have a commute to work some say walking around the block before work and treating it as your 'commute' can help you get in the right mindset. You can then do the walk in the reverse direction as your 'commute' home at the end of the day. For some this helps with keeping boundaries between work and personal life. 

Try different things out and once decided stick to a routine that suits you!

Digitally connect with others - set up a WhatsApp or Facebook group (if you have not already got one) with other researchers from your office/research group/discipline/social circle. Make time for social communication with friends and family. This is especially important when exercising  social distancing, and there are lots of different ways to socialise online. There's lots of information online about setting up Netflix Parties, or using the twitter hashtag #CovideoParty. Reach out to friends you might not have spoken to in a while or if you don't hear from someone, why not check in on them?

The Doctoral College is currently organising some events to help with digitally connecting with other researchers, such as moving our Research Showcase online.    

Decide your working day - this might be e.g. 8.30am - 4.30pm so that you don’t end up drifting into working all the time from 7am to 10pm. Limit yourself to a set number of working hours a day so that you don’t overwork without realising it. Monitor this by writing it down. Divide the day into chucks of time. This might be 30 minutes to an hour. Have breaks. Get up and move. 

If you are struggling with motivation, set a timer for 25 minutes, decide you are only going to work for 25 minutes and then take a break. There is a pomodoro technique which some home workers use to keep them motivated through the day, and have been very popular with our writing groups!

Look out on the Researcher Development webpages for online writing groups which will help structure your writing and day, as well as giving you a chance to connect with other researchers.

Set Goals

Setting goals (even small ones - preferably small, achievable ones) will help you to keep focus. You can do this in writing groups, with your supervisor or with a small group of researchers. You can then check in with each other for accountability, or use your supervisors as accountability partners. 

Once you know what your goals are, then make a short list of 2 things you want to do in the day towards them. Don’t set yourself too much to do. Once you have done the 2 things, then you can move on and set a new target. Use this time to think about how long it takes you to do a task. Congratulate each other for a good days' work. If you are struggling, talk to supervisors ASAP. 

This is probably one of the more important things to do when working from home, as it can be too easy to keep working when the commute is removed. Schedule and ensure that you take regular breaks throughout your working day, and have a proper lunchbreak. Whilst being mindful of the current government advice, use one of your breaks as an opportunity to get some exercise, go for a walk, or to simply get away from your new ‘office’. 

Make sure you have a mix of relaxing and entertaining things to do as well as your work. You might need to develop this aspect, especially if you are staying home more often. Read, listen to music, experiment with crafts that are easy to hand (e.g. origami!). BUT try and switch off

This is especially difficult if you are working and living in one room. Maybe create a ritual at the close of your woking day that you physically clear your desk space and hide your work. Bring it out the next day. 

Have screen free time to rest your eyes. 

Limit unhelpful interactions on social media. Limit reading too much news! It is very easy to become overly anxious by reading about the current/other situations. Decide how to manage your exposure. Think about how it affects your mood and adjust. There is a fine line between helpful and unhelpful communications. 

Think about exercising and self-care. Unless you are sick and needing to self-isolate by staying in your room, as of 17/03/2020 the Health Minister said it was OK to leave the house for exercise. It should be possible to be 2 meters from someone, so don’t stay inside all the time. Make time to walk. Maybe do this first thing in the morning when it is quieter. That also gets you out of bed, and sets you up the day. 

You may find that you cannot do this and feel uncomfortable, or indeed the government advice changes. If so, we will all need to exercise from home. 

Exercise

You might need to find an online fitness video that you are interested in following. The NHS have some 10 minute workouts videos which you can do from the comfort of your home. You need keep your body moving, as desk based working is terrible for our bodies. See the Uni advice on setting up your desk - you might be able to follow some of the advice, if not all. If we are working at home for months, it might be necessary to get additional equipment e.g. an external keyboard. Discuss with SID, your department or supervisors how to acquire anything you might need.

Mindfulness

You might also find it reduces anxiety to practice breathing or meditation. There is an introduction to mindful meditation podcast information video from the Uni wellbeing website by John Danvers (lower right side of the screen). And the wellbeing page has these Relaxation and Mindfulness audio clips. There are apps like Headspace and Calm which some people find useful, and are providing free content at the moment. 

Fresh Air

If you can get out at least once a day (ideally twice) to get some fresh air, making sure you keep 2m distance from people. If you are unable to get out, open the window in your house and let the fresh air in!

Desk set up

Making sure you have the correct desk set up while working from home can help reduce the risk of discomfort and injury. 

The DSE self-assessment is a checklist for both staff and students to use to ensure that workstations are set up correctly to reduce the risk of pain and ill health that can be associated with the use of Display Screen Equipment (DSE). The health and safety team have set up a Home Working Self-Assessment Form (COVID 19 version) to support both students and staff who may be working from home during this time. If when completing your DSE assessment it flags any issues please note that the Health and Safety team will still be able to advise on adjustments that can be made to make you more comfortable. 

‌Drink enough water (in whatever form you like) to stay well hydrated - you will know what your best hydration level is. Likely around  1.5+ litres litres a day. Keep eating fruit and vegetables to keep yourself healthy. This will mean you need to leave the home to get provisions, so you need to think about that. It is VERY important to stay hydrated if you get a fever. Measure out the fluid you need to drink so you know you are drinking. 

Looking after your mind and body is the most important thing you can do right now! It is easy to get isolated and feel low. There are various different support mechanisms available to you, during this time. 

PGR Support

If you are a PGR, reach out to supervisory team, PGR support team, or the PGR Support Advisor for Welfare, if you find your mood getting low. We can think through with you strategies to avoid this. Doing 1 - 7 above will help prevent this, however!

Our dedicated PGR support advisor for welfare Cathryn Baker is here to talk through any issues or concerns you may have. She can help make sure you get the right support you need. 

PGR Support Advior Welfare - Cathryn Baker- Email: welfare.pgr@exeter.ac.uk

There is also the PGR support teams who can help advise you, details of which can be found below. 

PGR Support Team Details:

Business School- uebs-pgradmin@exeter.ac.uk

College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences- emps-pgr@exeter.ac.uk

College of Humanities-humanities-gradschool@exeter.ac.uk

College of Life and Environmental Sciences- cles-pgr-support@exeter.ac.uk

College of Social Sciences and International Studies (Stretham)- ssis-grs-streatham@exeter.ac.uk

College of Social Sciences and International Studies (St Luke's)- ssis-grs-stlukes@exeter.ac.uk

College of Medicine and Health- UEMS-graduateresearch@exeter.ac.uk

All Cornwall Students- cornwall-pgr@exeter.ac.uk

ECR Support

If you are an ECR, reach out to you PI, line manager if you are struggling.

If you are concerned about your career, remember you can book an appointment with our careers coach Kate Foster via the Researcher Development and Research Culture team. 

Your research is likely to be affected in all sorts of ways during this unprecedented time. This is something you can discuss and work through with your supervisors. We are all working online, so don’t hesitate to ask for help or share that your work flow has changed. We understand and are experiencing the same issues in our own research and other day-to-day work.

Guilt is a strange thing, we can feel it when it’s not needed and it can make us do things that aren’t good ideas or use of time. So go easy on yourself and others, accept that you will probably not get as much work done as normal and neither will your colleagues. You are bound to be more distracted at home and some things will take much longer to address or complete even holding a simple meeting can be more challenging.

Get used to using digital technology such as Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams. Make sure you agree with your supervisors which technology is best for you to communicate via. There probably won’t be face-to-face contact for some time, so we all need to move over to digital connections. 

Remember everyone is in a similar situation and we are all evolving together with this new way of working.