Dr Yilun Xu, Research Associate, Department of Materials

One piece of advice I give to students is to try to separate your work and living spaces as much as possible.” 

I came to the UK to do my postgraduate study, choosing Imperial because it looked like some interesting things were being done here. I did my Master’s and PhD here and now I am conducting post-doctoral research within the Department of Materials. I also teach in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and am a postgraduate mentor to students in the department.  

Lockdown has affected both my teaching and research but in slightly different ways. Most of my research is computational based and to begin with, my colleagues and I had some issues carrying it out remotelyHowever, we have worked closely together and looked at new ways to collaborate remotely as well as new software we could use. We can now use our computers in the lab remotely from our homes so are able to continue our modelling work.  

The virtual community we created also means that we can continue to socialise with each other on Microsoft Teams. We have virtual pub nights, play cards together and also just have somewhere to chat. 

This is the first year we’ve had dedicated postgraduate mentors and it’s been really good. We’re more accessible than staff and as well as helping with their research, we can help in other ways. One of my students tested positive for COVID-19 and was very anxious. I was able to give him an extra level of support by signposting him to the right people advising him on what steps to take. 

Teams helps a lot when working with students as well as my colleagues. It’s so much better to have conversations with video as I can see my students’ reactions, tell if they’re understanding what we’re talking about, and so on, and they prefer being able to see me too. When we did voice calls to start with, students said it just felt like talking to a robot, but with video calls, we can create a proper connection.  

One piece of advice I give to students is to try to separate their work and living spaces as much as possible. It’s not always easy, but it’s good to put things away at the end of your working day. There’s nothing worse than lying in bed and looking over at a desk full of books you feel you should be reading instead of sleeping! 

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