Many challenges in all walks of life have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and HDR candidates aren’t excluded. One problem has been that most opportunities for candidates to present their research at conferences have been cancelled.

A couple of UQ HDR candidates, Tyla Cascaes and and Brianna Sands, took it upon themselves to create an alternative for Historical and Philosophical Inquiry HDR candidates to present. Read on as Tyla shares a little from her experiences the last few months.

Have you seen a significant change in your project during the pandemic? What are the key adjustments that you have made?

Fortunately, I was in the final stages of writing my thesis during the pandemic. Most of my work involved editing and concluding so I did not have to adjust my project in terms of content or structure. When we were encouraged to work from home, I had to move my primary workspace which took some adjustment.

Do you feel you or your project have gained any benefits from changes due to COVID-19?

Again, as my project was in its final stages already there were no measurable changes or benefits as a result of COVID-19. One somewhat unexpected benefit is that I have become more comfortable and confident communicating through video calls and Zoom. I have recently completed an oral defence of my thesis as part of the submission process. This would have been held online regardless of COVID-19 as both of my examiners work outside of Brisbane. Because using Zoom has become essential for meetings and teaching, I was more comfortable conducting this meeting in this manner than I otherwise would have been.

What was the most challenging aspect from changes due to COVID-19?

By far the most challenging aspect from changes due to COVID-19 was its impact on our mental health and stability. Personally, I thrive in a busy working environment and regular social interaction is very important to me and my wellbeing. Ordinarily our HaPI HDRs work in an open-plan office which allows me to check in with my friends, peers, colleagues, and even advisors regularly. This change in environment meant that I had less regular and informal interaction with my peers and advisors. I missed the short, daily interactions in particular. I could schedule meetings relating to teaching and my candidature but it’s difficult to replicate an impromptu catch-up. It was difficult to continue working at a normal pace without regular social interaction and with new levels of uncertainty and concerns about the present and future. For many HDR students, income and employment is a concern at the best of times, these types of worries are understandably heightened in periods of global crisis. The combination of limited social interaction, increased financial concerns, and the pressure to adapt to online teaching meant that it was challenging to produce the same quality and quantity of work as I usually would.

Do you have any advice for other candidates and their advisory teams? Any resources or publications you would point people to in order to help them on their journey?

If I could give any advice to other candidates and their advisory teams it would be to maintain an open and regular stream of communication. I think it’s crucial to maintain consistent, open, and honest communication with your advisors at any stage of your candidature. This is even more essential at times like this. If you and your advisory team are on the same page with clear expectations and timelines, all parties are better equipped to deal with any issues which may arise in your candidature.

I haven’t come across any particularly useful publications relating to this. And any recommendations I could give would most likely be very specific to my area of research.

Can you tell us a little about The Cancelled Conference and how you came to organise it?

Most HaPI HDR students are encouraged to present their research at conferences throughout the year. This provides a useful opportunity to test out new research ideas, to prepare for an upcoming milestone, and to network within the wider postgraduate community. At the height of COVID-19 all upcoming conferences were cancelled or postponed indefinitely. As HDR students ourselves Brianna Sands and I are acutely aware of the importance of conferences, and a number of our peers expressed their disappointment in missing out on conferences and other developmental activities during this time. While we could not compensate or replicate most of these experiences, we were concerned that our newest HDR students in particular would miss out on an opportunity to present at a conference this year. We believe that presenting at conferences is an integral part of the formative years of an HDR degree and as such, we presented The Cancelled Conference as an alternative and hopefully comparable experience. Brianna and I are the chairs of the Brisbane Chapter of the Australasian Women in Ancient World Studies (AWAWS), an organisation which fosters a supportive environment for all people committed to gender equality and diversity in ancient world studies. Using this platform, we opened The Cancelled Conference to all UQ HaPI HDRS and postgraduate members of AWAWS. Knowing that this could not replicate a full conference experience we hoped that this would allow students to practice public speaking and delivery, share their research, have some experience networking, and gain valuable feedback from a number of leading academics who were able to attend this conference.