Covid-19 has presented new challenges for Ph.D. candidates who are on a long term academic track. Most programs run for four or five years, at least, and this is supposed to be the time when Ph.D. candidates hone their skills in teaching, conducting fieldwork, and getting used to a professorship for the latter part of their careers.
But the shift to online classes and being a teaching assistant present some issues due to Covid-19, along with travel restrictions that are making it harder for candidates to do fieldwork and interview people.
Managing the online aspects of teaching with technology
It’s now more important than ever for Ph.D. candidates to master videoconference technologies for teaching. It is interesting because, before the pandemic, teaching assistants could sit in a classroom with professors and take notes on how their professor is lecturing, and how the professor engages students. Now with Zoom and other online technologies, Ph.D. candidates need to take into consideration how online learning is changing the classroom and how they can utilize video conferencing to the best of their ability.
Many teachers today are actually not experts in teaching through a video platform, so the current moment actually presents an opportunity for Ph.D. candidates not only to learn the new technologies well but also give feedback to their research professors about how to improve the overall experience of the online class—if they have telling input.
Some of the advantages of videoconferencing for Ph.D. candidates are the following:
1. Less anxiety presenting over a videoconference instead of in-person.
2. Easier to follow notes given that the camera setting allows candidates to work from their desk space.
3. Able to record lectures for students who might be feeling ill. This will be a major benefit during the 2020 Fall semester when a new protocol is demanding students stay home if they are not feeling well.
4. Having students answer questions and assessments via the Chat and Focus groups capability. Such recorded information can be easily stored for later data gathering and survey material.
While some candidates may find it more difficult to use Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms to deliver a lecture over traditional in-person style classes, the reality is that these technologies are going to be operating as part of the new normal for a long time now, so becoming savvy in these technology platforms will only help Ph.D. candidates throughout their graduate school education.
Fieldwork and the logistics of conducting interviews
A central part of any Ph.D. candidates academic track is being able to travel domestically or internationally and interview people to gain relevant insights in their field of study. This is usually done with a Ph.D. stipend in mind. While this capability may have been taken for granted before Covid-19, candidates are now faced with a dilemma of how they should go about interviewing people. There’s a huge difference between being able to travel and see the cultural surroundings of where an interviewee is based, versus having to conduct the same interview via videoconference.
This will mean that for Ph.D. candidates to be successful in their career track now, they need to become experts in online networking with platforms like Impactio and LinkedIn to be able to locate the people they need to interview online. It will also demand that Ph.D. candidates looking to interview people from different countries will need to conduct new research that would otherwise be obtained by the experience of traveling to the place of the said interviewee. Responsible candidates will make sure this angle is not neglected going forward with their research methods.
The good news, with respect to travel restrictions, is that mostly everyone is in the same boat. Even though airlines are starting to operate again with more capacity and tickets sold, there is still a looming ambiguity of how safe it is—sanitation, health, and tourism wise, to travel to a foreign destination globally. This means that cooperation for online interviewing should theoretically be enhanced at the current moment, as it is not the case that some are suffering from the consequences of COVID while others aren’t.
Overall, the challenges presented by the new normal of networking and conducting research can be overcome with an innovative mindset. The pandemic will not last forever and global travel will return. The key is being able to manage the here and now through re-skilling and adaptation.