After COVID-19: Survival Guide for PhDs and Postdocs

  • 2020-05-25
  • Sarvesh Kumar Srivastava
  • Comment
Desk with coffee mug, pen and Post-it "How to Survive"
© Getty Images/krung99

How can young researchers conquer life during and after the COVID-19 pandemic? Engineer and postdoc Sarvesh Kumar Srivastava from India gives tips for working from home, extending your social network and unleashing your creativity.

The worldwide spreading of the Coronavirus has brought our world as we know it to a grinding halt. People all around the world have to practice social distancing, something which has never been tried before, not to such an extent. However, as a postdoc and student representative, I have come to an eerie realization – social distancing is not that new for us, or for our junior colleagues, i.e. PhD students. During the pre-COVID world, we often cracked jokes, saying that if there was ever a big natural disaster or even a zombie apocalypse, PhDs and postdocs will still be working in their labs without windows and without a clue that something is going on.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions” – PhDs and postdocs certainly live by those words. Knowing that you have limited reagents, sparse support, and a race against time, makes one meticulous in planning and proficient in collaborations. How different could things get because of Corona?

Let us take a pragmatic look: Year after year, several studies published in Nature, a leading international journal of science, concluded that PhDs and postdocs – the very drivers of our scientific and technological innovation, are often underpaid, over-worked, and are battling with mental conditions i.e. six times more than the normal population (Evans et al. Nature Biotech. 2018, 36, 282).

Vaccines, or for that matter, most technological, scientific and medical innovation happens because PhDs and postdocs run the wheel. One could even argue that there is a similar trend across sectors, for workforce at the grassroots level – like nurses and caregivers in the healthcare sector – and it is about time government agencies and funding bodies push for much needed reforms.

Nonetheless, the purpose of this post is to provide you with some tested methods for early-researchers in a post-COVID world. This list, by no means is exhaustive, and only serves as a platform to initiate discussions across different forums and stakeholders.

1. Give it a second thought

Working from home can be boring, but it also offers flexibility. Research has conclusively shown that flexibility is a key driver for empowerment. It is about time to take a fresh look at things. Maybe you can give that brilliant idea you once had a second thought – think about it!

2. Unleash your creativity

Most of my colleagues unequivocally state that “Isolation is not an issue” but “uncertainty is” (read it as “a delay in planned work”). To tackle this, one can take initiative and start communicating ones preliminary research results to reclaim a sense of control. Now is also a great time to work on those figures for your next conference or manuscript, or that complex simulation you wanted to test – unleash your creativity! Try your hands at
 to make professional-looking figures for your paper or poster – it’s easy, intuitive and free.

3. Immerse yourself or do nothing

Ask any PhD student about how they feel about defending their thesis online and you will hear “that’s not how I imagined it to end” – it is unreal to witness a good few years of someone’s life be concluded online. However, it does not diminish the achievement. For those of us who are still in our ‘experimental years’, it is okay to immerse a bit more in our hobbies. Maybe take an unrelated online course, or just do nothing for a while (without any guilt).

4. Put your talent on a pedestal

Extend your social network. Comment and share LinkedIn posts of unknown job seekers to increase their visibility – sharing is caring. Share your show-reel, 3D models, or beautiful graphs online (go for your published material to avoid mishaps). Put your talent on a pedestal and let recruiters know how you can improve/add value to their work. Every company now, more than ever before, needs smart people – like you.

5. Show solidarity

Last but not least, share your feelings with your close friends. If you are an expat or have expat colleagues, understand that social isolation might be harder for obvious reasons. Show solidarity. And go for a virtual coffee, beer or bingo meeting.

With re-opening on the horizon, I wonder how many brilliant companies will be born in these otherwise challenging times? When smart people have time away from their 9-to-5-job to really think about what they want to do with their lives, we can only expect better things from this point on.

Continue reading on the Alumniportal

Like so many other countries around the world, the Corona pandemic has hit India hard. But scientists and entrepreneurs are fighting back with innovations ranging from diagnostics to vaccines.

For the first time, the DAAD invited alumni from the social sciences sector to take part in a digital meeting of professionals. The meeting entitled ‘COVID-19 – Resilience within society’ involved four renowned experts discussing the consequences of the pandemic for democracy – and expressing their hope that humanity is in a position to learn something from the crisis.

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