Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research

Grace Lewis - My pandemic experience

Grace discusses her experience of working through a PhD during the pandemic

Grace Lewis is a second-year PhD student based at the University of Leeds. She spoke to us about how she's had to juggle being a mum with children at home alongside her studies. Watch her video and read her interview.

Video: Grace Lewis - My pandemic experience
Grace Lewis describes her experience of studying through a pandemic
Headshot of Grace Lewis

How have you managed your time during the pandemic?

I had worked from home a little in the past and so the switch to full-time home-working hasn’t been too much of a shock. Fortunately, I had five months to meet other PhD students in my school, my supervisors, clinical staff connected to my project in Leeds Children’s Hospital, some of the Centre’s PhD cohort, and a local PPI group, before the pandemic led to lockdown. It was valuable to have built some connections prior to switching to online meetings.

Thankfully, the last year or so has mostly involved a literature review, early thesis chapter writing and paperwork for ethical approval etc., which were all possible from home.

I’m a mum of two school-aged children, which meant having the whole family working and schooling at home, like many others around the world! We found our own routine and bizarrely, I think being forced to focus my time constructively helped me stick to my timelines for those early pieces of written work, but it was a challenging balancing act!

Have you had to change your PhD significantly?

I had planned in-person interviews for my study and had planned to be available in weekly asthma clinics to chat informally to patients about my PhD study to help facilitate recruitment. However, as some patients travel quite a distance to the clinics, I had always planned to offer online/telephone options for interview. This meant I was able to amend my protocol slightly, and switch to a fully remote study, with the hospital as a patient identification centre. However, gaining local approvals was delayed during the pandemic.  I hope to stay on track for an on-time completion despite this.  I’m trying to stay positive and remember that delays can happen in any PhD, with or without a pandemic.

What would you have done differently if we hadn’t had the pandemic?

I would have been travelling into Leeds much more often (I do not miss the commute!) and would have met many more academics, and new clinical staff who have taken up posts since the pandemic began. As mentioned, I would have also been able to facilitate recruitment and offer in-person interviews.

Have you found any benefit in the online connections for students in the Centre?

There have definitely been some benefits from increased online connections. I'm not sure whether we, as a student cohort, would have started the monthly research seminars and journal clubs in ‘normal’ circumstances. It has meant we can have regular updates on others’ work in addition to longer meetings a couple of times a year.

We have always been a virtual Centre – has this year helped or hindered that?

For me, as the only PhD student based in Leeds at the time of writing this, the virtual connection to others studying all things asthma-related has been fantastic.

Although there have been some virtual events held by my university, it has been great to have another smaller, specialist group to connect with virtually. It also helps to hear how others from different institutions tackle the challenges that studying and researching during the pandemic has brought.

I’ve also enjoyed being the student representative on the Centre’s advocacy committee and learned a lot from the virtual meetings with both Patient and Public Involvement representatives and members from various institutions around the UK.

Having the virtual Centre has also meant we have had fantastic support from Centre staff for student-led initiatives, such as the monthly research seminars and journal club, as well as post-graduate training led by the Centre’s post-graduate training team.

See Grace's PhD Profile