The life goes on, and the debates over the best web-conference SW are disappearing in the haze. Similarly, like the disruption of day-to-day routine from early spring. It is all now after half a year the so-called new normal.

With the days passing by and me entering the second year of PhD studies, I’ve been now stuck in the professional and personal evaluation of the previous academical year 2019/20.

The end of February 2020 was marked by quick swift to virtual space which, in many cases, is, in my opinion, more effective. In particular, due to the elimination of bureaucracy obligations. No more running around the campus trying to catch the right person for the signature (+ printing). This is a welcomed asset.

I’m lucky to say that in regards to my 1st PhD year, the disruption did not cause any harm in following my study plans. I’ve passed all my obligations. In terms of research, I’ve successfully met my goals such as conferences, popular and scientific writing and grant proposal to outline the research plan of my PhD project. The evaluation report is fulfilled with various activities connected with my academical journey. I hope nothing would come to my way so I could follow this trajectory.

But the report is just a paper which does not cope with personal feelings — also an essential element of the evaluation (and of the whole journey?).

Photo by Mikey Harris, Unsplash
Photo by Mikey Harris, Unsplash

Unfortunately, the current situation points out to some week points of the shift to virtual space. Those weak-points are not connected with operational struggles. Still, if they won’t be sorted out in upcoming times, they will also imprint the quality of the work.

I’m talking here about building up a sense of community and belongingness, which in my opinion is crucial for the long-term motivation to provide solid work. I agree that PhD candidates are in general, somewhat motivated and goal-oriented people knowing why they are pursuing the PhD. However, the universities, and most likely also other sectors which switch to home-office mode, have to figure it out a way how to create a sense of community. This will hardly be done by CC emails or quick monthly catch-ups nor consultations over specifics part of the project.

For me, the sense of community is crucial as I’m at the new academical institution. With activities going online, I’m having doubts whether I feel so.

On the one hand, I continue with my research, network with colleagues from various places and solving operational struggles. Unfortunately, on the other hand, I feel like I’m representing myself and building “my brand” rather than the institutional one.

Is this right?

And what could we do to challenge this issue?

Building a community on Facebook groups? Regular off-topic meetings or threads on Slack? Newsletters?

Something clearly has to be done. Having a doctoral ID card and institutional access to scientific publications is just not enough.