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Blog Aletta's Talent Network: Doing a PhD in times of Corona

Datum:05 januari 2021
Denise Blom
Denise Blom

In this blog post, Denise Blom (d.m.blom, a PhD candidate at the UMCG discusses her experiences of starting a PhD on the eve of the corona pandemic.

In February of 2020 I started with great enthusiasm on my PhD project at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG). At the time, COVID-19 was already spreading throughout China and other countries, including the Netherlands. Just 1.5 months after starting the PhD, several restrictions were set in order to slow down the spread of the Corona virus in the Netherlands. These restrictions had a lot of consequences for my work. The most prominent one for me was that I had to work from home, just like many others in the UMCG. It caused some difficulties, as I was just starting my project and getting familiar with my colleagues. I liked the face to face guidance and discussion sessions regarding my project, which were not possible anymore because of the restrictions. Meetings with my supervisors were held online and I noticed discussion sessions became more complicated, because it was inevitable that people were talking at the same time. Therefore, the first few meetings were focussed on trying to find a way to overcome these difficulties and we managed to make these online meetings work by direct and simple communication. Also, getting to know my colleagues became a little more challenging. Normally, I would just walk into someone’s office for a talk or socialize during lunch breaks. Instead, I got to know my colleagues better during online coffee breaks and other online meetings via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Likewise, the restrictions had a major impact on my research project. The initial research proposal included a project regarding the psychological impact of a breast cancer diagnosis. Due to the restrictions, consults were limited or held online. Therefore, data collection was on hold. Accompanied with the uncertainty when data could be collected again, it was decided to change the topic of the research project. Although the decision had a major impact on the project, it created the possibility to study the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for my PhD project. The data collection was already set up by multiple researchers of the department in April. I had the privilege to work together on this project and eventually I started to take over the data collection. At first, the decision was hard to make as I put a lot of work in my original research proposal. Hopefully I may continue this research project later on during my PhD or after my promotion. Moreover, I had to partially start over again by formulating new research objectives. Nevertheless, I’m fully committed to the topic and I see this study as a great opportunity to know more about the impact of COVID-19.