Coping with research interruption; finding strength in a PhD community

Andrea ChesterLeave a Comment

Kelly Chan, one our PhD students, reflects here on the impact of COVID on her research and her proactive approach to find connection and inspiration. With thanks Kelly for sharing this.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a new normal, and forcefully put an abrupt pause in what we, educators and researchers, do very well: planning. Be it about work or life or even the everyday, our plans have been changed, postponed, or cancelled.

The pandemic disruption hit hard with research students. We’ve put our hearts and souls into project proposals to convince our supervisors and senior colleagues that our project is worthwhile, feasible, and ethical. Then our plans and field research were irrevocably interrupted by COVID.

My PhD project, based in the School of Education, Creative Agency research lab, and the Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC), is a visual ethnography which involved videoing sit-down and walking interviews with artists in Hong Kong. With the borders closed and the uncertainty about when we can travel again, it has become impossible to carry out my field research as planned. For a while I was very lost. I was frantically searching for direction, internally and actually google-searching! I stumbled upon a lot of resources about how to do research in uncertain times, which helped: a crowdsourced doc Doing Fieldwork in a Pandemic (started by Prof. Deborah Lupton), different Facebook groups (for example Innovative Social Research Methods, Pandemic Pedagogy), YouTube webinars (Breaking Methods) and exhaustive lists of prescribed readings.

Just as I got overwhelmed subscribing to updates from groups and signing up to new mailing lists, I saw a Facebook post about a virtual PhD course, RESEARCH, INTERRUPTED, offered by Ethos Lab at the IT University of Copenhagen. It was free of charge and I signed up immediately. In early June, the organisers replied to say the course was five times over-subscribed. I was certainly not alone. Across the world, many of us are looking for help to design or redesign our research projects.

Because of the huge interest, or dare I say desperation, Ethos Lab ran the course in 20 groups, some synchronous and some asynchronous. I was assigned to a group of eight who were located in similar time zones. A few of us were based in Australia, some in India, the Philippines, and some who have homes in Hong Kong, the UK, the USA and South Africa. We are all at different stages in our projects ranging from setting out to navigating mid-fieldwork interruptions. For three days we got together to watch keynotes, listen to podcasts, and discuss. We read and wrote together. We had breakout sessions to work on methods and ethics. We talked openly about the weather as much as about our futures. Although our classroom was reduced to a screen of squares, our learning transcended geographical, time and discipline limitations. We supported and challenged each other, and we found strength in sharing knowledge and struggles.

Our PhD journey is unique to us and it should be. With social distancing, it adds physical sisolation to our individual journeys. But I believe learning and knowledge creation ought not to be a lonely endeavor. If you are also looking for buddies to write, read, or discuss our projects together, feel free to reach out to any of us at Creative Agency. (My email address:

Kelly Chan

2nd year PhD

Creative Agency, DERC, Care-full Design Lab, School of Education, RMIT


Research Interrupted, Course 2. 2020. “Common Responses” Research Interrupted: Methods and (re)Design of Fieldwork in Anthropology and STS. PhD Course, June 15-19 2020. ETHOSLab, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark. 

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