Making use of your ‘quaran-time’ as a doctoral researcher

Everyone has a different way of dealing with the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Thabani Mutambasere, one of the 2018-2019’s Hive Scholars, is trying to use this time to develop some new skills – through online courses. And he wants to share his experience with MOOCs with us!

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As doctoral researchers, we already spend a lot of time on our own, combing through data, trying to make sense of it and write something meaningful. This means that we already spend countless days hibernating in our rooms, houses or gardens working. The current situation, made possible by COVID-19, has disrupted some of our schedules in big and small ways. However, we should not forget to take our minds off the thesis and do other activities that are beneficial for our careers in the future. Here I am referring to doctoral researchers who are keeping the door open to careers both in and outside academia on completion of the PhD. Or even if you are intent on staying in academia, there is no harm in learning new skills.

For those who are interested in working outside academia, this period, where we are basically stuck at home and in front of our screens for the most part, could be the perfect opportunity to enhance our CVs. Moreover, given the current economic crisis, it is most likely that some will be graduating into a job market inundated with overqualified but unemployed people who’ve lost their jobs due to the pandemic. All the more reason to learn some technical skills to enhance your CV. Technology is always changing and so are methods, skills and ways of doing job tasks. You may find that during the time you have been in full-time education, a lot has changed from the last time you were working (if you had been employed before starting the PhD) or for those who hadn’t worked before, there are certain new skills that are now required. For example, some like me who come from an International Development would know that familiarity with packages such as Salesforce has increasingly become important in aid and charity fundraising inter alia. Additionally, it would be useful to try and re-join the workforce with updated project management qualifications for example, if one has been out for a while.

We are lucky we live in an era where information and communication technology has made it easy to learn online through massive open online courses (MOOCs). MOOCs are interactive step-by-step courses aimed at reaching an unlimited number of participants worldwide to create communities of lifelong learners. There are many different websites that offer these services with edX and Coursera being some of the most popular. Indeed, some universities and companies teach these courses too and be sure to check with your institution if there is anything of interest to you on offer. MOOCs are a wonderful way to gain some useful new skills from home during this period of quarantines and social distancing. Based on what you are interested in, there are a lot of courses on offer from various platforms with some being free and some charging a small fee to gain a certificate. Whether you want to learn how to code, data science, public speaking or a new language, there are different options available to you.

To shed a bit more light, I’ll share my own experience with these courses. They are particularly excellent as you can work at your own pace. In my case, I registered for a course in Project Management for Development offered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), a ten-week course via edX. However, even though the course is ten weeks long, it is available to complete between April and December 2020. You, therefore, do have time to work on the course here and there whilst taking a break from writing. The recommendation was spending at least four hours a week working on the modules which all things considered, is not too much demanding. The course was mostly interactive and involved watching videos, taking part in online discussion forums, doing some light reading and then completing a short multiple-choice based assessment if wishing to gain a certificate. Each week had a different module, from the project charter, to tools for scope planning, cost, time, risk, procurement and human resources management inter alia. At the beginning, they ask each person to pick a case study which they can then use for the entire course to answer questions. This means that you only have to read your case study in full once which saves even more time). The experience altogether was good, and it was equally great to refresh my project management skills, and learn up-to-date methods. To top it all off, since the provider IDB is affiliated with the Project Management Institute (PMI) the credits from the course can be used globally as prerequisites for higher certifications.

Of course, this is all assuming that everyone has uninterrupted access to the internet and functional computers and the like which I understand may be different for everyone based on circumstances. Some of the courses are accessible via mobile devices such as phones and tablets with the same functionality as on a computer. This was certainly the case for the course I took. Moreover, in light of the current situation, some course providers have either lowered their fees or scraped them altogether for those wishing to gain certificates. Certificates also require participants to a certain overall mark or above, in my case it was 65% and above. In other instances, platforms hosting the courses may have a “welcome discount” for new users so it is worth doing a little bit of research beforehand. The course I took had a discount on it which made it quite affordable. Additionally, on this particular course, if one didn’t want to get a certificate, they could audit the course and learn the skills, though it is always nice to have a certificate to show (and a badge), and to enhance one’s CV.

Of course, the current crisis also calls for a break and at the end of the day, if you are feeling too much pressure from the PhD and other life-related burdens or commitments, then it is also necessary that you consider giving yourself breaks and time to relax. We are not machines after all.

Sussex Researchers: We want to hear about your experiences during Covid-19! Get in touch with the Hive Scholars – reach us on Twitter or Instagram or email us at


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