Community Acuity (27): keeping communications open during lockdown

Community Acuity’ blog posts are from supervisors, to supervisors. They share the thoughts, experiences and reflection of the highs and the challenges of supervising doctoral students. This is a guest post by Dr Abeer Hassan, Reader in Accounting at the University of the West of Scotland.

A team at work all fist bump around  a creative workspace.
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

Once the decision to enter lockdown because of Covid-19 was announced, and after reading up on ‘how to lead during a crisis’, I learned that “speed is your best friend and perfection is your enemy”. As a result, straight after the announcement of the lock down, I got in contact with all my PhD students to make sure they were OK. As I know them well, I know that some of them could lose their jobs, or their partners could lose jobs which would have a huge impact on their mental health. I kept in touch, communicating with them by phone and by email.

With their permission, I created a WhatsApp group for all my PhD students and I used it as a platform to say hi, and to keep up morale, sending for example images  of flowers just to keep communications open and to increase their positive thinking. I must say, after we created this WhatsApp group, I felt relieved, as it enabled me to check they were OK informally. Students responded positively:

“Thank you for taking the initiative for creating the WhatsApp group for our information and communication. Personally I found this group so useful as we can not only communicate with each other but also can share our worries and thoughts during this difficult time.”

“It helps us interface with one another and share our various challenges, motivate one another and ultimately helps our mental health as against going it alone without any form of interaction. I thank you for the role you play in helping us to stay on course and focused on our research in this very unique times”

Three weeks later, I realized that this was not enough and invited the group to have regular Zoom meetings so we could see each other and talk. It turned out that one of my PhD students is very good at technology compared with others. He trained us all on how to use Zoom in two sessions, and again the development was positively received by the group:

“I want to say thank you so much for your support in this very difficult situation. From WhatsApp and Zoom meetings I can up to date the required information, reduce my anxiety and share my fear with you and other PhD students. As the results of this catch ups I feel very fresh, motivated and can concentrate to my research.”

In addition, to inspire their reflection and creative thinking, I asked each of them to write a blog with me on how their PhD topic is linked somehow to the current Covid-19 crisis. All of them participated, and some blogs are already out and some are still in the review process. In addition, to keep them involved and engage them in developing other skills, I organised a mini conference on ‘The link between your PhD topic and Covid-19’. Feedback from the students showed that it was a very interesting and useful session for all involved:

The outbreak of coronavirus left us with so many unanswered questions. Due to my personal circumstance (including my health and my family members and additional caring responsibilities) it was impossible for me to engage with my studies. I was so worried and felt that there is no one to share what we are going through. I was in a dual crisis of physical and mental health. As most of us our living oceans apart from our families, she knew how difficult this situation is for us. I am forever grateful for her. She even encouraged me to write a blog. One day she came up with this amazing idea created a WhatsApp group so we PhD students can connected with each other 24/7. It’s a great platform where we share our problems, constantly motivate each other and help each other to improve. We all, Dr Abeer’s PhD Students (I am so proud to say that), cannot thank her enough for bearing our procrastination, frustration, fear with unbelievable patience during this extremely difficult time”. 

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