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Writing a thesis during a pandemic

People often say writing is a lonely job. One needs solitude to write peacefully and effectively. As a doctoral candidate, I thought this to be true until COVID-19 hit. Before the pandemic had anyone asked me how the writing part in the research would be affected if the world went under a lockdown, I would have answered that with the peace and solitude, I could pay more attention to writing my Ph.D. thesis.

In ordinary circumstances, we as a people tend to extrapolate things as in mathematics where limits are extended to infinity. Well, real life is a different cup of tea.

All my pre-conceived notions that research and writing requires solitude has been questioned to its limits in the 20 months since the lockdown was imposed in March 2020. The notion that writing requires solitude has been proven wrong, at least in my case. The lockdown did not give me solitude or peace. Removal of the hustle and bustle of life does not lead to solitude despite one being alone physically. Solitude comes with peace of mind. With the world crumbling with millions of deaths, infections and loss of dear ones, it affects us emotionally, psychologically and even financially in some cases.

Under these circumstances, one can’t go on researching like nothing has happened. Research writing in social sciences and humanities is not about churning content as in a 9-5 job. A good thesis can be written whem the researcher is enthusiastic about daily routines, with writing being a sub-set of it.

I realised that writing is a sub-set of my entire day or work which, during the pandemic, has been snatched away. Pre-pandemic, my day would start from going to university and talking to friends, classmates, colleagues, acquaintances and other familiar and unfamiliar faces. Attending lectures, workshops, conferences and symposiums would then constitute the next portion of my day. Even small yet big things as just going to the library to read newspapers or sitting in a canteen and discussing a range of things with my friends gave me peace of mind, which eventually enabled me to do research. After going through all this, the solitude that one chooses for oneself then helps in writing chapters of the thesis.

This is different from the solitude of the lockdown which takes the form of loneliness. The stillness and the lack of noise do not lead to peace. This realisation did not come in a day, a week or months where I as a researcher was trying to live my life as in the pre-pandemic situation.

It was after fighting battles with myself and failing to reproduce the same kind of enthusiasm for research and writing which I had before the pandemic that made me question what is lacking which is not letting me be myself, enjoy writing and researching like I used to before the lockdown. The answer became clearer as months passed. I realised it was my ‘routine’ that made me ‘me’. Without the routine, I can’t be myself. Trying to replicate most of my routine during the lockdown seemed very ‘artificial’ and ‘inorganic’. Also, it appeared to be forced, inorganic and mundane. As research students of humanities, we don’t have physical laboratories to conduct our research. This whole world is supposed to be our laboratory.

Also, what some promoters of digital education and tech enthusiasts do not understand is that not everyone is hardwired to behave mechanically like a robot and can be adapted flexibly as per the requirements of a set environment by an engineer. The phrases like ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ do not help either. Therefore, a lot of researchers are under a considerable amount of distress lately. The stress of being able to conduct their research properly, being in a mental framework even to wanting to do review of literature, being stressed to submit their Ph.D. thesis during such times of crisis and great uncertainty. Many researchers have deregistered themselves from the Ph.D. course as a result. What many people fail to understand is that research requires a conducive environment for it to be accomplished or flourished.

Most of the universities have been shut down since the pandemic has hit us. Those which have opened have not started functioning as they did in the pre-pandemic times. The point to be noted is that these past 20 months were lost either considerably or fully (in worst-case scenarios). The expectation from the researchers to conduct their research and come out with a well-researched thesis under such circumstances is quite frankly a very hard task to be achieved. There are many exceptions who have gone on record to say that the lockdown has helped them excel better but then exceptions aren’t the norm, and the world can’t function on exceptions.

Those who argue to look down upon those who could not excel or even compete in these trying times are just refusing to accept that research can’t be done in the ‘survival of the fittest’ mode. In a country where researchers are anyway trolled by large sections of media as those who live on taxpayers money, this kind of thought process is going to harm the research and researchers even more. The realisation that has dawned on me during the pandemic is that until the world goes back to the natural order of things, research can’t be done with the same zeal and enthusiasm.

martandjha@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 12:22:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/writing-a-thesis-during-a-pandemic/article37838679.ece

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