PhD Month Seven: The One with The Global Pandemic

There I was at the beginning of March, working in the field on my PhD, minding my own business, when Boom! A global pandemic hit the world. Now, I’m back in the UK staying at home to help stop the spread of this novel corona virus (SARS-CoV-2). Somewhere in the middle I spent a whirlwind week in Kelowna, not really knowing which way was up. I caught up with a couple of friends, fit in a quick trip to a counsellor, and then ended up leaving the country exactly 7 days after returning from the field.


I’ve worked consistently on my PhD since I left Canada. I wake up each day and relocate from the right-hand side of the bed to the left-hand side of the bed, where I prop up the pillows and work on my research. Like a dog, I look forward to my once-per-day permitted exercise walk, then I get settled back in to work until the evening.


Despite this, it feels like the PhD has taken a back seat. I’m focusing on getting all my environmental variables in order. That means downloading variables like elevation, forest cover, rivers and roads, then formatting them so they fit the study area. This consistently takes three times longer than I plan for, so while my ‘Ta Da’ list this month was hard to fill, I’ve written the perfect code for when I inevitably need to do it again (and again).

  1. Took the most last-minute flight I’ve ever taken in my life, and hot-footed myself back to the UK, so I didn’t get stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic during a global pandemic.

  2. Moved out of my Canadian address and into a shared flat in Bristol with James and a friend.

  3. Managed to continue working on my PhD the day after a trans-Atlantic flight from Canada to the UK.

  4. Prepared a talk for the BC TWS (British Columbia Chapter of The Wildlife Society) conference that was then cancelled because of covid-19.

  5. Had my first work-related Zoom meeting.

  6. Met up with two non-housemate friends to play boardgames before the government locked us down.

  7. Downloaded some more landscape variables that now require manipulation and cleaning in R, so they’re still a work in progress.

  8. Found my first ever sand dollars!

  9. Explored additional camera trap data that I hope to incorporate into my research.

  10. Joined my first remote yoga class on Zoom courtesy of my friend Jenny, off of Zen with Jen.


There are plenty of things that slipped by the wayside this month. For example I didn't

  1. Send any scat samples to the lab because there are bigger priorities than wolf poop right now.

  2. Go riding or climbing or skiing because fun has been cancelled.

  3. Write a research proposal outline – it’s still on my list because I haven’t quite got into an in-depth science brain since moving across the world in a pandemic.

  4. Go to the dentist, opticians, or chiropractor because I left Canada.

  5. See any of my family since arriving back in the UK because lock-down means no non-essential travel or socialisation.


I've been thinking about how people in other countries will be affected, particularly my friends in India, where resources are less readily available, self-isolation is a privilege, and wages will not commonly be provided to the workers who lose their jobs.


I am very lucky and grateful to be in the position I’m in: I could afford to fly home before international travel became severely restricted; I am back with James after three months apart; I have a roof over my head in a city I’m familiar with; my family are healthy and well-supported by each other; my friends are healthy and well-connected with each other; I’m able to keep working on my PhD (and more importantly keep being paid – at least until September); and I’m still able to go for walks each day.

A beautiful day at the Taj Mahal - it truly is as impressive as it seems (© James Fleming).

What will April bring?

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Photo Disclaimer: All photographs are property of Sophie May Watts or James Fleming unless otherwise stated.

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