Doing my PhD at home in the Philippines during Covid-19 (Andrew Albert Ty)

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In some upcoming posts we are going to hear from La Trobe graduate researchers who are (for lots of reasons) outside of Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next up, I invited Andrew Albert Ty, who is undertaking a collaborative PhD at La Trobe while based at Ateneo de Manila University. Candidates enrolled in a collaborative PhD at La Trobe University undertake research while based predominantly at a partner institution and graduate with a PhD awarded by La Trobe University.

Jamie from the RED team has asked me to share my COVID-19 story. Here are some of my thoughts from where I am in Manila.

I am part of an international cohort of La Trobe graduate researchers who are based in the Philippines. This means that using Zoom for supervisor meetings and RED team workshops and seminars is a built-in feature of my HDR experience. In mid-March of this year, my acting supervisor sent a group email to students and staff, easing us in to the online transition. In that message, my cohort was mentioned as being “ahead of the curve” when it comes to working remotely. I still wonder how ahead of the curve we might actually be!

Since starting my PhD in August 2019, I have experienced several awkward video-conferencing moments. I have confidently discussed my thesis topic on mute; I have sneezed in rapid succession without muting. My kids have attended several meetings behind my back, and the time-zone difference between Melbourne and Manila led me to go online at the tail-end of one session. I guess what I am saying is that I have already made some of the awkward adjustments to graduate researcher life on Zoom!

That said, COVID-19 has not been without its effects on my workflow and emotional state. A global pandemic is a hyperobject, like global warming. Its scale is so difficult to perceive that calling it a health crisis seems to be an understatement, even if it is true.

The movement of COVID-19 across all areas of human life, however, is overwhelmingly visible. From increased police presence to enforce quarantine on the streets to multiplying memes on social media screens, from heartbreaking and inspiring stories of hard-working front-liners to insensitive displays of class privilege, there is so much going on that, even if I’ve been always-already working from home, the context in which I do my PhD has changed so significantly and, I suspect, irrevocably.

I try to be careful with how I use social media. News often tends to be a downer, but it is necessary to be updated, especially with the recent shutdown of the TV and radio arm of the largest media network in my country. Social media has major problems, but it remains the most convenient way for me to connect with the world outside my house.

The view outside Andrew's window 

As arguably the most able-bodied in my household, I hold an “enhanced quarantine community pass” which allows me to go out four days in a week to buy food or medicine. Because my family has been fortunate enough to not have gotten sick and since food and grocery delivery options are available, I have not had cause to use it. Still, whenever my glance falls on that piece of card paper, I feel the emotional weight of the responsibility and of what is happening “out there.”

Andrew's quarantine pass 
When we emerge from this into what people call the “new normal,” I suspect it will feel more new than normal, for a long time after. COVID-19 is a virus in a viral age, and its effects on me as an HDR feel like I’m going through a milestone I could never predict.

Still, with online as the new default, there are more opportunities than before to connect. It now feels like I’ve been here all along, waiting for others to find me! I no longer need to scroll down the list of workshops to find the ones held on “O” (“online”) campus. Thanks to several meetings set up by my home department in Creative Arts and English, I’ve “met” researchers and staff working in research areas that constellate with my own, a major part of feeling at home, research-wise.

I’ve also been participating in weekly HDR check-ins organized by Anthropology/Microbiology graduate researcher Jacqulyn Evans; conversations here range from home cooking ideas to questions about Uni procedures (fielded by Social Inquiry GRC Anthony Moran, who attends these meetings regularly). We’ve expressed thanks to library staff; we’ve fretted about major revisions to research projects. In the most recent check-in, a question about Jacqulyn’s research on kombucha led to a discussion of fermentation versus distillation, ending with a comparison of drinking cultures across the world and how factors like gender and location play a role!

I’ve even joined an interdisciplinary research project organized by Michael Atkinson, a Politics and Philosophy graduate researcher whose email invitation I immediately responded to, which isn’t something I tend to do under normal circumstances. In this group, we use Slack to share our identities and stories as postgrads living under COVID-19—learning, connecting, growing, and moving.


Andrew Albert Ty is a graduate researcher at La Trobe University. You can connect with him via his La Trobe Scholars page and learn more about his background by looking at his ORCiD. Andrew tweets as @EnterDuration