Thursday, 30 April 2020

Starting a PhD and researching from home (Cecilia Bravo)

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar | unsplash.com

Perhaps the greatest challenge for me at this time is being able to sustain mindfulness in the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s happening everywhere can make us feel daunted and disheartened.

A particular worry for me is being unable to see or support my family in person if anything went wrong as I’m 15,000 km away from them.

Associated with the challenge of keeping a healthy mind, there is the occasional difficulty of balancing time between focusing on my research and having time for other activities, especially leisure, and keeping in touch with family and friends online in Peru. I am a first-year international PhD researcher.

I believe that sometimes we can hurt ourselves by thinking too much about certain things.

So, what do I do? I keep myself busy with various activities. Cooking and going out for a gentle walk or run have proved to be most helpful so far. After doing these activities, I usually feel more motivated and focused to keep working on my research, and I’ve been trying to run my own Shut-Up-And-Write sessions at home at least twice a week as it helps me to better understand and organise all the content I’m gathering in my research.

As well, the following approaches and activities help me maintain my mindfulness and live more anxiety-free days, and I hope they might be helpful to you, too.

Filter and balance negative news

There are heaps of negative things going on out there. Before clicking on a news link, I ask myself whether I really need to know about such news and to what extent I could use the information to make my life or the lives of those around me better. Also, for every negative piece of news I read, I try not to focus my attention on distressing images and look for another more positive story to offset my daily dose of negative news.

Videocall family and friends

Frequent video calls with family and friends are something I am definitely planning to maintain after the days of COVID-19. I’m chatting with my mum and dad almost every day and I feel that our bonds are stronger than ever. I have also realised that our conversation topics now range from the mundane to feelings we didn’t usually talk about, which is emotionally healthy for them and for me, as well as fun!

Cultivate positive conversations

Conversation is often referred as a fine art in the sense that it requires practice and skill from its participants. Personally, I think that cultivating the art of conversation couldn’t be more relevant these days. We can have healthier interactions if we avoid getting stuck in our complaints about the changes that we are all getting used to these days, and if we try not to engage in apocalyptic discussions in relation to the COVID-19 breakouts. Like some discourse theorists would point out: it seems that what we do with language has a greater impact on our lives than what we usually think.

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I hope that you find my ideas useful and that this blog entry opens a place for participation and community support. After all, we’re all in the same boat despite the particular challenges that we are all facing in our personal lives and routines. I invite you all to see this time as an opportunity to share your best thoughts and constructive vibes so that we can sail through these days together.

I would like to end this entry quoting Crowded House’s 1990s hit ‘Weather with You’:
‘Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you’. 
This song usually gets me in a good mood when things aren’t going that well around me and, while I was preparing my blog entry, I thought that it couldn’t be more appropriate now, when negative news is hailing hard outside and we need to keep the good weather with us at home. Better times will come, they always do.

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Cecilia Bravo is a first-year PhD researcher in the School of Education, La Trobe University. She has a background in Applied Linguistics and Education and, over the last five years, she has been working in the area of additional language learning, both as language teacher and trainer. 

Cecilia is originally from Peru and has recently moved to Melbourne to conduct her PhD research. The doctoral project examines the potential of feminist discourses to empower women who have been victims of domestic violence. She tweets from @ceciliambravoh.

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