PhD Diary – August 2021

The year mark approaches, and with that comes the written review. Much like my 10-minute presentation from a few months ago it is tricky to reduce a year into a 3,000-4,000-word document. But it has also been a good opportunity to get on campus to get the writing done. The challenge of working from home has been a frequent theme in my PhD life so far. Being able to have the chance to try on-campus work has helped see whether the environment was as big of a factor as I thought it was.

The largest change I noticed was that by being on a work computer meant I did not have the usual distractions available as I do at home. Falling into a social media rabbit hole was clicks away at home; not having key distractors accessible kept me on track with my work. Another consequence I found working on campus was being in a place around others doing similar work gave me motivation. I had this feeling of judgement if I spent even a moment of time browsing Twitter without producing some work. The pomodoro technique has helped keep this balance between regular breaks and being productive. I urge anyone, particularly students, that struggle with motivation to try the technique for themselves. By being on campus with some level of time management, I felt far more productive than I did at home.

Yet, there were certain problems that I had not thought would be obstacles in a blended work environment. The one that was the most prevalent was that some of the software that I used did not utilise cloud-based saving. This was most problematic with NVivo which I was using to store and analyse my reading. Files produced by NVivo can be large in file size, taking a long time to download and upload being quite a nuisance when making minor changes. Now, I am not making any notable changes to my NVivo file as the written review takes priority so there is no immediate problem. But as the next stage of the process begins so does the need for more reading and analysis which throws the logistics of that software into question. The solution for that seems to be to investigate re-using Mendeley on campus and importing them to NVivo at home.

Another point of note with working on campus was not having my own personal equipment. Having used my setup for years and forced to use it for work has made me familiar with it. Using a computer that is not my own can feel very weird, although I imagine this is because I have not been on campus for around 14 months if not longer. Things are returning to some level of normalcy, yet for some it is taking longer than expected to adjust. There is a growing demand that learning post-COVID will use online and campus-based teaching methods. Yet, I question whether we have grappled with what effective blending learning looks like. This is especially relevant to online learning as that was only trialled widely as a product of need, not as a want. For myself, I know the benefits of working from home and will do so occasionally but having a reason to get out of the house after 18 months and being around colleagues again has been refreshing. Only time will tell as to where I sit on the scales of blended learning.

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