4 Unexpected Challenges of Remote Thesis-ing

Since time hasn’t existed since March, it feels utterly unreal to be actually working on my thesis right now. Nevertheless, from now until September you can expect to find me knee-deep in air quality reports and R scripts. My project is desk-based so fortunately the overall research process hasn’t been impacted too much by the pandemic. Still, remote thesis work has required its share of adjustments:

Remote meetings

This is decidedly my least favorite part of the situation. Every call drags on while somebody inevitably runs into technical issues or forgets to mute their mic while talking in the background. Not to mention, being on webcam is the worst—particularly since the position of my desk and light sources means that I am perpetually vanishing into a white void.

Curse you, muscle memory

This is admittedly a rather petty gripe. ICT has made a number of computers available for remote access, which is great! It is incredibly nice to be able to use college software without having to burden my aging laptop. What isn’t great for my delicate American sensibilities is that this remote access also invisibly switches my keyboard configuration. I now constantly mix up “ and @ whether I’m in remote mode or out of it. What’s worse is that my laptop simply does not have all of the keys that a standard British keyboard has…the # in remote mode vanishes from the face of the Earth which makes commenting code a fun adventure.

Physical materials

For space and monetary reasons, I usually stick to typed notes and online readings. But being stuck in a small space staring at my laptop screen all day has really caused me to miss having the ability to rest my eyes and read a physical page. Although I can’t take advantage of the library’s physical materials or my department’s ridiculous printing budget, I’ve been edging away from having my work be solely electronic by keeping a paper thesis diary to track my progress.

Missing my people

Last term, I did spend some time thinking about what the summer research project would be like. To be fair, I did imagine it mostly happening in a small room which has indeed come to pass. But the room I was picturing was my option group’s classroom in the Sherfield Building. After spending many hours there hammering away at group projects I became quite fond of it. I generally dislike working with too many other people around me but it was always a treat to be in the company of my wonderfully kind and clever GECP classmates. I’m sad to not have the chance to be around them this summer to bounce project ideas and frustrations off of, appropriate baked goods from, or make trips downstairs to H-bar with on a Friday evening.


I can’t say that the thesis term has gone off as I expected, but the pandemic has also shaped my research in a very exciting way. The challenges of remote work aside, I’m excited to see where it leads.

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