Lockdown story from Anna

Anna Skelt, PhD Maths student

One of our PhD students, Anna Skelt, wrote an article for the Graduate School about her experience under lockdown. The original article is here, and we reproduce what she wrote below.

I am in the final year of my PhD in Mathematics, specifically on Magic Squares. I fell in love with this topic during my undergraduate degree here at USW and was fortunate enough to be able to move straight onto researching for this PhD. I hope my research can further mathematical understanding and set up a framework for others to explore this topic in the area known as recreational mathematics. Ideally I would like to be able to continue my research on Magic Squares and publish papers once I have completed my thesis, even if it is just as a hobby.

Thankfully, lockdown has come when I am already writing up my thesis so I can still do the work from home; I am lucky that I don't need any specialist programs or software at this final stage. However, I never worked at home previously as I much prefer being in an office on campus to work and it has definitely been a struggle some days to find the motivation to write. I miss just popping into my supervisor's office, whether that be for a work question or just for a chat, as well as the rest of the Maths department with whom I'd eat lunch and refer to for help when I needed it. I still have weekly meetings with my supervisors via Teams and this has helped me stay on track. They are extremely busy due to the extra work being put on academics currently so it really helps to set realistic goals and have a lot of communication to ensure that we're all on the same page.

It's really important to give structure to your day and learn how you work best. I have started running in the mornings to get some fresh air and exercise and that then sets me up to work for the rest of the day. It is also important to take breaks when necessary, whether that's throughout the day or having a whole day off to refresh your brain so that you don't burn yourself out.

During the lockdown I have mostly spoken to one particular office mate and friend as she is at a very similar stage to me and we both know we can call or message any time, just to share our thoughts and reassure each other that we are not alone.

I am hoping to have my thesis submitted by the end of summer and I am preparing for the prospect of having my viva online. Doing the viva virtually doesn't worry me too much, it helps that my friend has just had a virtual viva and it went really well. I think it will be very different but the preparation should be basically the same. Either way I will have a practice run with my supervisors so that I am as comfortable as possible whether it is in person or online.

Overall my PhD journey has been quite a rocky one with various barriers to overcome, specifically my Director of Studies leaving during my first year and my project taking a different path. Ultimately this was for the best and has made me understand more where my skills lie and I have been much happier with the direction of my research.

I have changed a lot since I started at USW as an undergraduate. I never would have thought when starting that I would be able to do a PhD. It was only in my third year whilst undertaking a research project that I realised how much I enjoyed that area of Maths and I wanted to pursue it. I have grown up both personally and professionally as have had such a range of experiences from just helping out at open days to lecturing an entire module. I am very excited to finish up now. I don’t have any immediate plans as I embarked on a PhD for

the love of the topic and the research rather than with a future career in mind, so I am keeping my options open.