Creating a virtual community

It’s been a strange few weeks: getting used to working from home, without a desk or space to call my own, having a supervisor who doesn’t have internet access, feeling isolated from my PhD colleagues and unable to access either the office at the university, or any of the archives I need for my research. However, I cannot fault Exeter University for the way in which they have tried to keep us both informed, and give us a sense of community. As it became increasingly clear we were on the verge of a global pandemic, the university sent daily emails advising those students or academics who were abroad or had recently returned from hotspots (I’m glad my year abroad was a long time ago!). It soon became clear we would be unable to work at the university and again, we were kept informed of decisions. Although the priority has to be final year undergraduates, we post-graduates have not been forgotten. The Doctoral College has laid on an online programme of training, including some very useful sessions with Dr Catriona Ryan of Scriptorcube, but one of the greatest things for me has to be the daily “Online Shut Up and Write” sessions. Put simply, a group of post-grads get together online and work simultaneously for blocks of time interspersed with 5 minute breaks. Not only have I been introduced to the tea weasel, coffee squirrel, biscuit pigeon, fruit mole and sandwich toad, but I have, virtually, met a great group of fellow post-grads, most of whom I will never meet in real life, but with whom I have so much in common. The sessions provide support, fun, academic interest, insight into other people’s research and daily routines (everyone gets very excited when other people have parcels delivered during the session!) and the human touch we are all missing, and, actually, once all “this” is over, I will miss them very much!

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