Nothing says “shut up & write” like a pandemic

PhD and Stuff
6 min readMar 27, 2020


I knew that during the write up I’d be locked up somewhere, never going outside, never seeing or talking to anyone but my flatmate (shout out). What I didn’t expect though, was that so would be the ENTIRE WORLD.

So there you go, I am now writing up, under quarantine, during a worldwide pandemic.

I am aware that as PhDs go, I am amongst the lucky ones. I empathise with the 1st years who now don’t know when they will be able to start their research, and most of the 2nd and 3rd years stuck amidst data collection (my deepest sympathies for the wetlabs and the neatly timed longitudinal studies). During write up, all I need is my laptop. I have been used to work from home a lot, and for some tasks I have always been incredibly efficient at home. But not writing though. I just don’t write well at home, and that’s a problem. I now have to find in myself the last few bits of resilience to get to the other side of the PhD.

I’m not going to give you a self-care list because, 1) this is not quite my style, 2) you’ll find loads of ideas online, and 3) most of you already know what works for you. For example, I do know I should take the time to do some yoga in the morning to get the day started. However, instead I will most definitely begin my 12h-long writing day eating Nutella on toast with a 1:1 ratio while watching Netflix. Whatever works guys! If the PhD wasn’t here, I would be Queen B of the Quarantine: reading books, watching movies, baking, yoga-ing, knitting, crafting, listening to podcasts…

Self-care is always important, especially in this very uncertain period. However, for those of us who already have submission and viva dates sorted out, unfortunately the best kind of self-care is to… carry on, and get ourselves to the other side. As the end of the confinement means the end of the PhD, Queen B of the Quarantine will have to wait. Here are some of the pretend self-care I’ve been doing:

- I treat myself to 45min more of sleep in the morning. At the library, I could be exhausted and still be efficient. At home, if I’m a bit tired, I will stare at my screen pointlessly. Solution: sleep more.

- I keep the exact same morning routine, to keep myself in the library flow I had, except that now… — I OVERDRESS. As I explained on this twitter thread, as apparently it is important to still get dressed in the morning, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to wear all the things I never get to wear in real life: my evening and cocktail dresses. As I said, whatever works pals!

- I stay true to what matters to me beyond the PhD, like maintaining a vegetarian diet even though keeping veggies is a bit more challenging these days, or buying unprocessed food without plastic. The same goes for my outfit choices: I’m really into sustainable fashion, and with the lockdown I can finely give a chance to some clothes I wore less than thrice, and make them work. Sure, it will not change the world, and it is quite futile, BUT it allows me to still be active in things I care about, without leaving the flat. Small victories.

- I facetime my cat (and my parents, of course). Every other day I prove to my parents that I’m still as healthy as before the pandemic, and I get to see my gorgeous Elliot, who couldn’t care less about coronaviruses.

In these uncertain times, keeping on working might actually be an excellent form of self-care. Keep your world moving. If you are unable to continue your research because of the confinement, I may have some tips for you as well. As I’m at the end of the PhD, I have a long list of things I would have done differently, had I known. If you are stuck at home, you can still do things that future you will be grateful for! Here is a Top 4 that you can do without leaving your sofa:

  • Read papers. You do this consistently in 1st year, but once you’re deep into data collection and analysis… not so much. And once you start the write up, you realise you have about 500 papers in your To-Read folder. Get this out of the way! Take notes, think about which chapter this could go in, prepare everything for the write up!
  • Write. Write drafts of intros, methods, results. Even if you don’t have results, you can write a template. Even if you end up ditching the what you wrote, having a couple of paragraphs will help you get started when you’re writing.
  • Learn R. Honestly. If you don’t already know it, learn R. If you know it already, learn Python. Research is moving towards transparent and reproducible practices. This means scripts. That’s a harsh truth, but very soon the ability to code will not be what makes you stand out, but very basic requirement. You can do like me, and struggle for months to tidy your data and run simple ANOVAs and regression models, or you can use the next few weeks to get a head start. It is very hard to learn R when you’re not truly using it, but believe me, any progress you can make now will be rewarded when you analyse your data (or when you try and get a job).
  • Renew your passion for your project by doing some Sci-Com. Almost everybody is stuck at home, and Netflix will only take them so far. There are loads of very cool initiatives to bring science online, like Skype A Scientist, but you can also start blogging or vlogging about your research, have a Q&A, or whatever medium you’re into! During challenging times, I’ve always found that taking a step back and explaining my work to others renewed my motivation like nothing else.

Finally, there are ways we can still support each other, PhDs and non-PhDs alike!

-For people who have to keep on working: have common working sessions online. Peer pressure: not fun, but efficient.

- For people who can’t work from home, but who have friends who still have to work at home: have coffee breaks online. As I’ve said before, supporting finishing students with a 30-min coffee break does wonders.

- Double the rate of memes, cat videos, and outfit of the day forwarded to each other. And send them to me too please.

- Share your best working/writing playlists (if you feel like sending any to me, know that I’m into Jazz and Beethoven. Because I’m a very trendy person.)

- Cut down on your meat consumption. Chocolate cakes don’t start pandemics guys, they just don’t.

All in all, we who stay at home are really having it the easy way. Many simply have to keep on working in this unbelievable Hollywood movie scenario, those who look after ill people, those who keep the rest of us fed. When you don’t know what else to do, think of ways to support them, support your neighbours, support people who might need you. Finally, In this period propitious to introspection and reflexion, we can all take the time to think about what this whole experience will have taught us (*hint* what this crisis says about our economy and the jobs socially valued and how much each job is paid, *hint* our environment and how we have deteriorated it, *hint* our tendency to put animals in cages all their lives *hint hint*), write it down, discuss it with others, and let’s get ready to change our lives around for the better once this is all over.

A wave with a 2m safety distance,




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