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My PhD is lab-based, so when the first COVID-19 lockdown started, I was unable to continue with my research. Yet, I still worked 8h per day teaching, reading useful research papers, writing my thesis prematurely, and much more. Moreover, during this time, I found time for self-development and new hobbies which made me a much happier person, thanks to the first lockdown.   

However, I still lost 5 months of work because I could not continue the research I did before COVID due to COVID-related restrictions, shortages in supply and the death of a collaborator. This made me change my project completely. Luckily, this was the best decision ever because my current research has been going smoothly.   

I became a postgraduate student representative after this lockdown. The first thing I did was that I obtained data from SENSE study, which looked at how PhD students were affected by COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. This study shone light on many struggles that students experienced, including depression in two thirds of PhD students, and who was affected most, e.g. students with caring responsibilities. I shared this information with the staff in my faculty and since then they started to actively circulate information about where to get psychological and financial support. Also, supervisors started to talk with their students much more about how students are doing.    

During the winter lockdown, I read a UCL Disabled Student’s Network Report about what can be done to improve the quality of education and wellbeing of students with visible and invisible disabilities. After talking with other student representatives and our staff, I decided to focus on complementing student induction with information on what disability is, examples of support they can receive (e.g. quiet space for studying) in the university, and who to turn for to get help. Also, we are tailoring staff training on disability with Enhance the UK, the organisation run by disabled people. After we do induction and staff training this autumn, I will push for the same change in the whole UCL.   

Apart from that, I founded Ely Litter Pickers. Within less than 4 months, we got 700 members who adopt areas of our city to look after or pick as they go. We also work with local schools and scouts. We successfully obtained funding from local businesses and are self-sufficient. This group has become a local sensation with many newspapers, That’s TV and even BBC Radio Cambridgeshire talking about us!   

I was fortunate to go through the pandemic and achieve good things for my community. I hope I can do more before I finish my PhD.  


Written by Miroslava Katsur, MRC Life and Biomedical Sciences (4 years), Research Degree

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