The Covid-19 pandemic has affected many things in our lives. Education was also affected in great deal. Students of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) are facing difficulties due to the Covid-19 crisis which further impacted the progress of their PhD research. However, when CitySpidey spoke to some PhD students of an IIT, they shared the difficulties which they are facing now due to the lockdown.
Sandeep Das, 26, a PhD student said, “Due to the pandemic, we have been locked up in our rooms for the last 20 days. Previous year also a considerable amount of time has been lost. Not being in the lab has a drastic effect on the research. Being away from the family is also difficult as our parents are on their own. We are stuck in the middle, doing nothing.”
Vidhi Agarwal, 25, a PhD student said, “I am a PhD student and right now we are facing a situation where our research work is suffering a lot and we have no suggestions to compensate for it. Secondly, it is mentally very challenging, due to which our efficiency gets reduced. So we have to find some way to get out of it. It feels like having a dark future.”
Another PhD student, Anupama said, “Covid-19 has affected the research and researchers very severely. It's been over a year that the colleges and research institutes have been closed or partly open. Most of the research streams involve practical work which is not possible to be done remotely from home. For subjects like physics and chemistry, engineering lab work is crucial for the completion of a PhD, which has been severely halted due to Covid-19. PhD isn't a time-bound course that researchers would receive a degree after a certain time even if work is done or not unlike MSc or BTech. It is a work bound course. All the researchers have to complete some amount of work to complete their thesis.”
“After the first wave, the lab work had started. Most of the experimental setups had suffered major wear and tear due to insufficient care during the lockdown. It almost took one or two months to resume research as we had to equip our labs fully from the start again. With the start of the second wave, the labs have been closed again and once again after two months, all the researchers will be back to square one starting from scratch. Although a PhD is not a time-bound course, the fellowship received by the student is time-bound and it stops after 4-5 years which creates a lot of pressure on the researchers who have their families dependent on them,” she said.
“We have been through a stringent set of rules to continue lab work. We are not allowed to leave the campus until and unless very urgently and we can return only certainly in the given time frame and have to compulsorily undergo 14 days quarantine. Although this is for everyone’s safety, practically it's very overwhelming. Students here are staying away from the family they need to visit due to some emergency but the visit is elongated as researchers are not allowed to return without permission and proper protocols which further delays the work. Any normal person requires a little change from work. It's been 8 months since we haven't stepped out of campus which makes it very frustrating and saturating to work. With normal conditions and no covid research is the process of trial and error it requires constant monitoring and much patience to compete for work. With these many hurdles and sudden closing of labs, it is practically impossible for any researchers to complete their work in a given time frame which increases the mental pressure on them,” she concluded.
A fourth-year PhD student who did not wish to be named said, “I have lost the flow of my research, mentally frustrated as I have been locked down in campus for more than 10 months. I am not able to attend any workshops, conferences or symposiums in real-time, and developed anxiety and depression due to personal relationships and mutual worry with family. Even if everything turns back to normal, I don't know where to start and address which problem.”
Soumya Kanti De, 28, a final year PhD student said, “We are facing a lot of issues, some of them I am sharing. First one is discontinuity in the lab decreases the efficiency of work. Because of lockdown, detection of covid positive case inside the campus and laboratory, we need to re-perform the same experiment again and again and after some progress, we have to start again from the beginning because we need to report the fresh experiments with fresh data (can't rely on the 2 months old samples or material).”
He continued, “Restriction of communication causes poor mental health. In some cases, doing research in some particular areas, is a huge pressure and workload. For this reason, meeting with friends or seniors or labmates is necessary to overcome the workload or mental pressure. Maximum research institutes restrict the movement of the students inside and outside of the lab (which is necessary) due to the minimum possible contact with each other If the situation is the same for the upcoming 5-6 months, I believe mental health is going to be a major issue.”
“Those who have almost completed or going to complete PhD, apply outside of India and a huge percentage of PhD students want to do or do a post-doctorate from abroad. Now, due to the lockdown and Covid-19 situation, they have rejected those postdoctoral offers as they are unable to join the laboratory. It’s a difficult situation because getting a good post-doctoral degree not only ensures the financial condition but also increases the job opportunity in India after a postdoctoral degree,” she concluded.
Manika, a PhD student in the electronics departments of machine learning for biomedical applications said, “I work with the datasets available online and do the necessary simulations. So, you can say it is a secondary source of retrieving data. But the real problem is running programs on a personal computer or laptop. Without labs, we are not able to easily process a large number of datasets. Secondly, the lack of interaction with supervisors and guides delays the important discussions.”