The struggle for productivity in times of isolation and social change

I am now entering the 4th week of my research project and these are my thoughts until now.

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2020 has truly been an intense year and it hasn't even ended yet. Humanity has struggled with a global pandemic, climate change becoming more and more dangerous, institutionalised racism and police brutality (although these are not new), anti-maskers and pandemic denialists, a transition from in-person to online learning and working and so much more. It is a time where we finally have to look at the world, our communities and ourselves and start working towards effective, ethical and authentic change.

I learnt that I got accepted for the Laidlaw scholarship in mid-April, in the midst of quarantine. I was delighted and proud of myself but at the same time I had a constant feeling of guilt.I felt guilty I had such good news, in a time where the world was falling apart. Later I understood that although this opportunity is a privilege, it is how one uses it and how they intend to make a positive impact through it that matters much more than denying the privilege itself. I started my research project at the start of July a few months after the quarantine ended in my home-country, Greece. Although the lockdown had been lifted, social distancing measures were starting to become our new reality and in terms of the Laidlaw scholarship, everything had been moved online. 

The first week of the research, I felt somewhat disoriented in terms of how I could communicate with my mentor effectively and organise my methodology in order to make the research as successful as possible. At the same time I also struggled with productivity. My main problem was that I didn't have a separate space to call a study space, I had to work in my bedroom. This made it difficult for me to concentrate and make my brain understand when it was time to do research and when it was time to relax. Furthermore, seeing this need for social change around me, the immense inequalities that many people have to suffer through everyday I questioned the significance of my project. Was it going to be something worthwhile that would bring about positive change? 

Although the first week was difficult, I realised that over time it became easier. I slowly started to set small goals for the project that I had to complete everyday. I reported thoroughly on my progress in the meetings with my mentor which helped both of us  understand how much progress I had made and what could be improved every week. I had a clear methodology in mind and I made progress everyday and this is how I started feeling more confident in myself and in the significance of my project. Now, as I'm entering the 4th week of my research project, I thought I could share some tips that have been very helpful for me during this time and have enabled me to be productive and avoid procrastination, for anyone that has found themselves in a similar position.

1. Set daily small goals for your research project:

This has been a lifesaver for me. Instead of constantly focusing on the outcome of the project, the bigger goal which for example for some it could be a research paper that they want to write, focus on completing smaller goals everyday like reading a paper that could help your research, taking notes on something or writing down your methodology in detail. For me, this helped me make progress without feeling guilty that I wasn't doing enough.

2. Use MindGenius:

I really can't recommend this enough! I think it was in one of the training sessions that we had with the Laidlaw team in my university that an academic recommended it and since then I've been using it constantly. It is an app which is used for project management and mindmapping and it helps you lay down your thoughts and develop your ideas in a visual way. Plus, you get a 45-day free trial which is very useful for our research as Laidlaw scholars.

3. Take frequent breaks to clear your mind:

Since we are now working in isolation, essentially in front of a computer screen, it is very important to take a break 2-3 times in the day. What usually helps me is going for long walks, cycling, swimming and going out with friends (although this is not possible for everybody). If you can't go out there are still things to do inside the house like watching a movie, catching up with a loved one on the phone, reading a book  etc. Weirdly, for me it is when I take breaks that new ideas come to mind about my project and how to develop it!

4. Network with other Laidlaw scholars (online):

Although networking online is not ideal and poses a challenge, it has been very helpful for me to set zoom meetings with other scholars in my university, meet them and talk about our project, our challenges and our experiences. It makes me feel like I can relate to someone and I'm not the only one who has challenges to face in their online research.

5. Finally, be kind to yourself:

This sounds cliché and maybe it is but it is very important to forgive ourselves when something in the research doesn't work out, or if there are days when we don't feel like dedicating time to our project. Mental health always comes first and we shouldn't have extreme expectations of ourselves. Also we shouldn't forget that the world and maybe us are going through a difficult time. The pandemic and all the social issues that have risen this year have affected all of us, even if it is in different degrees. 

Maria Valenstain

Student Researcher, University of York

I am an undergraduate Laidlaw Scholar studying Philosophy and Politics at the University of York. I am very interested in the climate change debate and the politics associated with it. Specifically, my research project investigates the discourse of individual responsibility presented as a way to halt climate change and whether this discourse helps slow or accelerate the fight against it.

4 Comments

Go to the profile of Julian Pallinger
Julian Pallinger 4 months ago

Thanks for the useful tips Maria!

 My research project investigates the application of the philosophical concept of existentialism in climate change policy and whether it can shift the mentality of policy makers and enable them to take radical action against climate change.

Maybe not by policy makers, but through some collective sublimation - the turning creative of (existential) angst - of ressentiment (see Nietzsche) by those who have no part but have to live with the consequences. For a more expansive exploration of who 'those' are, the rather recent book by Bruno Latour Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime may be helpful to you. Good luck for your project!

Go to the profile of Maria Valenstain
Maria Valenstain 4 months ago

Hey Julian, thanks so much for your comment!

Since I wrote the introduction, I have changed course and not only looking at policy makers but the whole society and also the policy-making process in a more holistic way! Thank you for pointing it out though, I had forgotten to change my introduction.

Also thank you very much for the recommendation, I will definitely check everything out!

Go to the profile of Jude Hanlon (he/him)
Jude Hanlon (he/him) 4 months ago

This is really useful- thank you!

Go to the profile of Maria Valenstain
Maria Valenstain 4 months ago

No worries, thank you for reading it!