PhD in lockdown: my today-tomorrow thinking; my ever-changing research; and the Greenland Shark4 August 2020
By Elin Arfon, School of Modern Languages
I am a first year PhD student looking at plurilingualism and language learning. There are three things that I would like to share with you, which have helped me navigate my PhD through lockdown: my today-tomorrow thinking; seeing my research as ever-changing; and reading about the Greenland Shark.
Given that my PhD looks at language learning across secondary schools in Wales, my methodology centres around gaining access to schools. My Plan A was to begin my fieldwork from this September onwards during the 2020/2021 academic year. However, given the current global pandemic, it is uncertain how the situation may evolve over the next couple of months. There may be another peak in COVID-19 cases, another closure of schools, another lockdown. There is a plethora of possible future scenarios. Consequently, I am finding myself navigating my PhD methodology through a sea of Plan Bs, Cs, Ds, and Xs, Ys, Zs…
This is where my today-tomorrow thinking comes into the picture. This is the idea that not everything has to be sorted out today. In other words, you may be able to do it tomorrow. Please understand, I do not assume that there will always be a tomorrow. COVID-19 has claimed many lives. I am extremely grateful that I am currently safe, healthy and able to conceive of a tomorrow. I also appreciate that PGR students’ research timelines differ. Therefore, I understand that my today-tomorrow thinking may not be for everyone. Nevertheless, this thinking has been a constant friend of mine during this time. Indeed, this thinking has supported me in accepting the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation. On days when I am rather concerned about my PhD fieldwork, I try to accept that today is not the gatekeeper of all answers. However, tomorrow may open its doors to possibilities. On days when I feel overwhelmed by certain events, I try to accept that I should not be overthinking tomorrow (next week, next month…). I should only focus on getting through today – one day at a time!
Along with my today-tomorrow thinking, I have come to realise that my research is ever-changing. We – myself, the research fieldwork, the participants, COVID-19 – are all part of the research, and we are constantly evolving and changing within the PhD project and beyond. In this sense, my research project can be understood as a dynamic and fluid phenomenon. It is not a static and fixed exercise. I have come to realise that a parallel world of Research Plan A never existed. Over the course of my first year as a PhD student, regardless of the current pandemic, my project has changed and evolved time and time again. It is ever-changing. With this also comes the realisation that there is no parallel world of Team Teas in the School of Modern Languages PGR Suite, conference after conference in different locations, face-to-face interactions… Today, we are finding ourselves in this world of waving on Zoom every time someone enters or leaves a meeting, of divergent caring responsibilities, and of uncertainty.
By contemplating my today-tomorrow thinking, and seeing my research as ever-changing, I consider the Greenland Shark. Recently, I read an article by Katherine Rundell (2020) in the London Review of Books about these underwater beings. The Greenland Shark lives in the darkest corners of our seas and can live for hundreds of years. Rundell finds this comforting, and so do I, that a given Greenland Shark may have outlived many wonderful, historic, barbaric, catastrophic world events. As Rundell notes, ‘[t]hat is their beauty, and it’s breathtaking: they go on’.
My today-tomorrow thinking has helped me in multiple ways during this global pandemic. No, I do not have to sort out everything today. Tomorrow may always bring endless possibilities. As with the Greenland Shark, the world of research will go on, but it may be changing and evolving. Indeed, it is ever-changing.
Barad, K. 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. London: Duke University Press.
ScienceNordic. 2016. World’s oldest vertebrate discovered in Greenland. Available at: https://sciencenordic.com/animals–plants-denmark-greenland-science-special/worlds-oldest-vertebrate-discovered-in-greenland/1437194 [Accessed: 13 July 2020].
2020. Consider the Greenland shark. Available at: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n09/katherine-rundell/consider-the-greenland-shark [Accessed: 13 July
 The notion of my research as ever-changing has been inspired in part by Professor Karen Barad’s Agential Realism theory. Elin would like to thank Max Ashton (PhD student at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University) for guidance on Professor Karen Barad’s Agential Realism theory.