Judith Hocking
Judith Hocking, PhD candidate, Flinders University & DELH

The last three months have been unprecedented in the level of change I have experienced. COVID-19 has affected every area of our lives either directly or indirectly. The PhD degree process has also been impacted.

My area of research is supporting rehabilitation for adults with acquired brain injury, using conversational agent software. When the impact of COVID-19 initially escalated, many questions regarding PhD studies came to my mind These questions included – would I be able to conduct the research as originally envisaged? What changes will I need to make to my project design? Even more seriously, could my PhD studies even continue under these circumstances, or would it be wiser to return to paid employment? Whilst working through these questions, I was also managing my concerns about my family, setting up to work from home, and learning to deal with national and world news as it broke.

My main priority regarding my PhD study was to consider the project’s viability. Following confirmation of this, it was then a case of knuckling down to reshape and refine the research design. Specific areas of change for me have been developing a research model that can be conducted entirely via tele-conferencing, as opposed to the face-to-face model that I had in place previously.Additionally, I have developed specific protocols for disinfecting equipment and ensuring a contactless approach for handling equipment. Throughout making these necessary changes, I have had excellent support from my supervisors at the Flinders Digital Health Research Centre, Flinders University. The Ethics application for my project is still under review, but following its final approval I will commence recruitment. It will be interesting to see how recruitment progresses, considering the disruption from COVID-19. I may find that people will be keen to enroll in my study as a way of having some extra interest in their life, or conversely it may not be as much of a priority whilst their own lives are still in upheaval.

Being a part of the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living (DELH) has meant that my research is highly relevant to providing virtual care and support for people at home. The Hub is exceptionally well placed to offer solutions to the many necessities people have for ensuring successful independent living whilst coping with frailty or disability. Arguably, theCOVID-19 season has clarified the role that digital services can provide for improving health and well-being for individuals at home.

We will all need to keep a careful eye on how COVID-19 will continue to affect PhD studies, even as the restrictions are slowly lifted. The negative economic impact will extend for some time, and this alone will cause significant social change. However, there is an opportunity here to address some of the new challenges that COVID-19 has created, and rethink the nature of PhD studies in this new era.
Written by:
Judith Hocking
ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living PhD scholarship recipient
Flinders University
NB: The author reserves the right to showcase/publish this blog piece elsewhere and/or in a different medium.

Editorial review by:
Dr Jordan Vincent, Chief Investigator
Kevin Hoon, Hub Manager