New routines for doctoral students in times of corona

* Written by Claudia Macho

Many doctoral students - maybe you too?! - want to take advantage of the current situation to make focused progress in their dissertation projects. But a state of emergency like this also brings its own challenges in research: there is perhaps a lack of a structured daily routine, places of retreat or inspiring expert discussions. Thus, sooner than expected, unwillingness and frustration creep into your research project.

What could support you in making progress with momentum even now?

1.) A harmonious rhythm of working and break times

For students who live alone, the temptation is great to now sit at their desk around the clock. But similar to a marathon, a certain pace can only be maintained for a while in a writing project. Stay alert when you start to burn out! Divide your day into clear stages and regularly - at least once every 1 ½ hours - plan a resting phase in which you get some exercise and relax.

2.) Optimal use of capacities

"Phew," I now hear many moans, "I wish I had that time! My head is smoking here between home office, child care, everyday organization and household! Concentrated work and writing is hard to even think about." First of all: the situation we are currently in is unique on so many levels. And maybe that means that you just can't do more than you already do. Being a mom with a toddler in home office myself, I can tell you: you are doing great and can be incredibly proud of what you are currently accomplishing!

If you still want to and can dedicate time to your dissertation, it is important to use your capacities as wisely as possible. After all, oftentimes it is not time that is lacking, but rather its efficient use. Therefore, think about and note down all the time slots that you have available for your dissertation project during a week. What do these time windows look like? How long are they each? Are they undisturbed or can you expect one or several interruptions? Where can you stay during this time? Afterwards, get an overview of the upcoming tasks in your dissertation project, as small and detailed as possible. Which online research tasks are to be completed in the near future? Which articles to be read? Which chapters to be revised? Write down these tasks in a list and mark, e.g. with different colours, which basic conditions the respective work requires. Which tasks can be easily interrupted and resumed at a later time? Which tasks require absolute rest and concentration? Which tasks require a computer and internet connection, which ones just pen and paper? Now compare the two lists and get an overview at which times of the week or day you should concentrate on which tasks to get the most out of your working time. Maybe you won't be able to write down groundbreaking insights in an undisturbed half hour, but you can transcribe a few minutes of an interview? Great, something done again!

3.) Motivating exchange with like-minded people

Isolation behind the desk is the biggest enemy of productivity. Because motivation and the best ideas often only come from talking to others. Therefore, find one or two colleagues who are also working on a research project and discuss your progress by phone once a week. Where are you making good progress, where is it rather slow? What is your greatest success since the last conversation? What are the next planned steps? The regular meetings will help you to stay in touch with others about your project even in the current situation and to move forward with momentum.

Please check if one - or more - of the above tips can help you to master the current challenges even better. Good luck - and see you soon back at the Center for Doctoral Studies!

Dr. Claudia Macho is a professional writing and mental trainer. As a coach, she accompanies students and early stage researchers through challenging writing projects and leads courses on scientific writing at universities such as the University of Vienna, Danube University Krems and FH Campus Wien.