Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research

Jasmine Hine - My pandemic experience

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

Jasmine Hine is a first-year PhD student at the Centre and tells us about how she coped with beginning a PhD study in the middle of a pandemic. Watch her video and read her interview.

Video: Jasmine Hine - My pandemic experience
Jasmine Hine discusses her experience of studying through the pandemic
Image of Jasmine Hine

How have you managed your time during the pandemic? 

During the initial wave of the pandemic, I was working as an Assistant Psychologist for a neuro-specialist service, a job that I loved and had only recently fallen into post-graduation. Unfortunately, due to the pressures of COVID and the vulnerability of patients, I was furloughed and subsequently made redundant.  

Having already decided earlier that year that I wanted to pursue a PhD, now was the time to ramp up the PhD applications and put all my time and energy into this! Whilst frantically applying for PhD studentships, I also returned to full-time work as a carer, as well as sneaking in several afternoons a week doing some sports coaching at a school (not only was there the pressure of not having a sustainable, long-term job, there was also the financial pressures of bills to pay!).  

I was fortunate enough to be selected for an interview for a PhD studentship within the Centre, based at Imperial College London. Looking forward to going up to London to visit Imperial, a university I had never been to before, I was informed the interview would be held online. Having not really worked online or remotely before, the idea of even an interview online was incredibly daunting! Luckily, the whole panel was very friendly, the whole experience went smoothly and there were, thankfully, no technical issues.  

I then also started my PhD completely virtually; I had a virtual induction within my Imperial department, which was great as outlined everything that was expected, but it was something I could do in my own time and didn’t involve any interaction with others. I wasn’t able to meet my supervisors face-to-face or any other students. This is probably what I have found the most challenging. I think starting a PhD in “normal” circumstances is quite overwhelming but having to negotiate this from my make-shift desk space at my kitchen table almost seemed to double the feelings of pressure and uncertainty.  

I also continued my work as a carer and a sports coach in the first 3-months or so of my PhD, which I enjoyed this as it kept me very busy. I did tend to feel a bit brain-boggled by the end of each week though, with not being able to do too much other than a walk to de-stress at the weekends.  

Have you had to change your PhD significantly?  

No changes as of yet, but will need to consider the impact if there is another wave.  

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

In hindsight, the pandemic really pushed me to apply for the job/PhD position that I really wanted and pushed me out of my comfort zone to do things I would never have ordinarily done.  

Although the challenges have been monumental for everyone, even for those still with jobs, those working from home, those who have lost jobs, those who were furloughed and of course those working tirelessly on the frontline – and it is undoubtedly something that I will never forget.  

I think from a work perspective, if we hadn’t had the pandemic, I would have made sure to meet people face to face as soon as possible, I think it makes it seem more “real” and then you know you have people who can support you and who are going through the same PhD rollercoaster as you. 

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

The online connections have been a life-saver! I put myself forward to be student rep (again, not something I would have ordinarily done!) but this has helped enormously with building the confidence to network with others.  

I would find myself emailing or messaging with others just to introduce myself and say hi – I think this has helped me feel more involved, socially, and I have really enjoyed organising online events, just as an opportunity to chat and catch-up with people before we then talk about work-related things. i 

It is nice as well to be able to have just student catch-ups or journal club with just students, so we have the opportunity to share any questions we may have with each other, rather than feeling intimidated by formally asking others.  

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

Although I joined mid-pandemic and don’t really know what it was like prior to home working or everything being online, I think the Centre being virtual has been fantastic. I have made so many connections with others who are working or studying all across the country.  

Unlike where you get a place at university and make connections with those on your course, or with those studying similar courses to you, everything is based online. There is such a variety of students, researchers, lecturers that you get to meet who are studying asthma, but are from so many different departments, or have different backgrounds. In that respect, it has been brilliant! I think without the Centre my experience of starting a PhD would have been completely different. I think I would have been swallowed by the pressure (mainly put on myself by myself!) and would have found it really, difficult to get going. I feel really well supported and know that there are a host of people I can approach if I have any issues of any kind.  

What have you learned from this experience? 

Although the whole pandemic has thrown probably everything completely out of sorts, I think that I have learnt that trying to be more confident and putting my hand up for things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, or wouldn’t normally feel confident in doing, is actually never as terrifying as I first think.  

Also, the things I have learnt from putting my hand up or the people I have met by doing this has been incredibly beneficial. I think that I have also learnt that it is okay to ask for help (even if you think this is more than required or for quite basic things!). Sometimes, working alone all day every day can be very isolating and can lead to stresses being mulled over and unnecessarily exaggerated. It is also okay to feel utterly overwhelmed some weeks; everyone seems to go through various ups and downs throughout their PhD journey, it is quite normal. Sharing experiences with others has helped me realise that it is not an easy process but with perseverance, we can get through anything! 

See Jasmine's PhD profile