A good use of time during the COVID-19 pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us – early career postgraduate researchers (PGR-ECR) and many other groups as well – have had to shift from on-site work to exclusively working from home. This change freed up commuting time and meant new opportunities to work with things other than the main job.
In my case, this meant more opportunities to volunteer to support our community and to do part-time work to save extra expense when doing doctoral research in the UK. Here, I hope I can share some optimism regarding volunteers or part-time work during and after the pandemic by focusing on three key themes: Prioritize the value of your works, Improve digital capabilitiesand Reflect and develop your skills.
Prioritize your professional values
During my doctoral research in the UK, I also worked part-time in different positions, including as a health assistant, telephone interpreter (in medical, social, legal or other fields, from Vietnamese to English and vice versa), residence tutor, teaching assistant and animator of the researchers’ academy.
I have also volunteered as a Pharmacy Postgraduate Representative and Engineering Mentor (Open-source Assistive Devices (OPAD) group) at the University of Nottingham, Library Language Teacher and Connected Mentor at the Salvation Army in Nottinghamshire, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are different ways to help you understand your professional values and one of the approaches is what is known as the eight career anchors defined by Schein and Van Maanen. According to their research, in order to identify your critical principles, you can rank them from most to least important whenever you choose to perform certain tasks.
Because I love having new experiences, motivating the younger generation and supporting vulnerable groups, this helpful tip confirmed my top five career goals in the following order (1 being most important and 5 being least important) :
1) Service/dedication to a cause: People feel motivated when they serve others and contribute to society;
2) Security/stability: People don’t like risk and like to identify with an organization because they feel safe.
3) Technical expertise: People have a high level of specialization in a particular field and would not want to rise to a management position;
4) Way of life: People who are concerned about achieving a good work-life balance;
5) Managerial: People are generalists and like to lead and move around in different areas of work.
Improve digital capabilities
You can understand your work values before, during, or after choosing certain types of part-time or volunteer work. More importantly, when recognizing your professional values, it will be more beneficial to use different digital resources and tools to help you achieve your career goals, especially when people have to work from home.
Although there are various useful digital resources, you should be ready and prepared for key things like digital learning activities, digital skills for work and digital wellbeing.
For digital learning activities, you can try 12 free online study tools. For example, you can explore Quizlet to practice with tests or matching games, or use Hippocampus to enhance visual learning as you tackle new terminology or interesting topics.
You can boost your digital skills for work with several useful tips such as “Curating content to show expertise”, “Become active on Linkedln”, “Talk to an expert” and “A professional web presence”.
For example, we shouldn’t wait until we need more information or additional materials to connect through LinkedIn. Following the application of these tips, I received more valuable connections that expanded my academic and industrial network.
Moreover, the Jisc discovery tool has been recommended as a good summary of digital capabilities for individual development, which is beneficial for improving your digital well-being. It is an informative and practical approach allowing learners to develop their strengths and improve their weaknesses by targeting specific topics as well as their own level of confidence.
Using this tool, I have noticed that our “personal brand” can be easily recognized online and/or offline as we provide more consistent information when updating our profiles in the official organization/site Personal web and other social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. .
Reflect and develop your skills
To maintain good physical and mental health when working and/or socializing online or offline, it’s important to develop the habit of tracking your progress virtually – no matter how big that progress is in your professional career.
For example, self-reflection on your digital well-being can be effectively learned and applied from courses or internal and external platforms such as the “Social Media Dos and Don’ts While job search” or the “COVID-19: Student volunteer” module. (from the University of Nottingham).
They offer practical materials or tools for your self-reflection and personal development, which helped me remember what I want, what I need and what I need to do in order to fulfill my life so that I can balance work and social life.
For example, I have been a health assistant to help alleviate the NHS staff shortage, a residential tutor to maintain the mental health of those self-isolating in university accommodation, and a medical-social interpreter to support my Vietnamese community for their appointments. in hospitals, clinics, schools, etc.
As can be seen, these experiences have been invaluable in furthering my quest to be a great researcher and lecturer in pharmaceutical sciences in the future.
For example, I might have a broad understanding of real-time systems (like being on the ground) healthcare or NHS, interpretive services or community-focused projects, education or management university. I was also able to fulfill my passion by supporting different vulnerable groups and motivating a range of people from diverse backgrounds.
Therefore, despite a high level of infection risks due to COVID-19, we can still be more motivated and skilled as we do and share extra things to help our community recover from this difficult time. We can all help others in difficult circumstances that the pandemic has shown for many people by volunteering our time and skills.
Me continuing to experiment during and after the Covid-19 pandemic
Finally, I hope that sharing my experiences may be relevant to other PGR-ECRs who also want to make the most of their time and at the same time help others find suitable part-time or volunteer jobs as well as support the community, especially at this time when the world is hopefully leaving the COVID-19 pandemic behind, but has been replaced by feelings of worry and despair due to the new reality of war in Europe.
If you enjoy inspiring others, in addition to learning practical skills and doing your scientific research, why not get involved by volunteering or taking on part-time jobs? I believe these experiences will benefit your independence and multitasking skills to initiate or boost your own research projects in the future.
The image shown is a private photograph of the University campus in Nottinghamshire, UK and is owned by the author.