This week on the SDRC blog we are continuing our Early Career Researcher blog series on the impact of COVID.  Today’s blog is by Tharin Phenwan. You can read the entire blog series here.

My name is Tharin Phenwan. I am a second-year PhD student at the University of Dundee; I am a GP by background, an assistant professor and lecturer at Walailak university School of Medicine in Thailand.

My research topic is understanding Advance Care Planning (ACP) amongst people with dementia: I want to know more about what makes them initiate their future plans discussion, when do they talk about it, and with whom.

COVID-19 impact upon my study

My research plan was to conduct face-to-face interviews with several stakeholders: people with dementia, their family carers, and health and social care professionals. I submitted my research protocol and ethical application around late February with anticipations in mind that I might need to alter my plan since I had been following the news about COVID-19 fairly closely and the situation was not well in the UK. Right after that, my local ethical committee sent an emergency announcement letter that we could not recruit participants face-to-face anymore. Hence, I need to alter my plan.

I started to look for secondary data that may be relevant to my topic but the evidence was very scarce; the lack of research with people with dementia emphasises my review that the voice from people with dementia is still heavily lacking.

After that, I started to look for alternative methods to collect my data with people with dementia online. To my surprise, there are several methods that you can collect your data from the internet such as online interviews or text analysis from social media.

What I found challenging in this pandemic

The hardest thing for me is not the lockdown restriction or, being stranded overseas, or change of my study plan, but my psychological anguish called moral injury. I am a medical doctor and that is a part of my identity. However, I cannot practice in the UK, nor that was my intention of coming here. It broke my heart and clinical self when I saw the news about how the NHS staff had to go through during the first period of the lockdown. My colleagues and students in Thailand also mentioned the extreme stress they were facing during the first month of the lockdown as well. It takes time to reflect and readjust myself that I am a student and that should be my immediate focus. There are other times and places for my clinical role, but not right now.

Additionally, I found it increasingly hard to focus, especially when we first started to work from home. The constant virtual meetings also exhausted me, which was a common issue that we all faced.

How do I keep myself motivated

I am a huge fan of project planning and plan my study with Gantt chart. During this period, I have to deconstruct my plans further down to a weekly and daily basis. This way, you will feel that you have achieved your goal every day.

I also spent times as a reviewer. During this outbreak, there is a huge influx of articles that are related to COVID-19. However, there is still a need to scrutinise these works objectively. As a reviewer, you can check the quality of these works and, in turn, contribute to the fight against COVID-19. It also helps you to adjust your writing style to different audiences too.

Apart from that, I found that I enjoy cooking a lot. Back in Thailand, I rarely cooked. Food is extremely cheap and abundant back there; you can get them 24/7 hence there is no need to prepare your own meals. Cooking gives me a more structured activity that I can control, destress (and eat it!). See below my Lamb massaman curry with tatties and nuts

I also keep my COVID diary and write down my thoughts from different perspectives; as a PhD student, a clinician, and other things that have been going on. I am fortunate in a way that I am in the position that needs to follow COVID-19 updates from both countries hence I can contrast and compare them objectively and robustly. There are many things that we could look back and reflect during this pandemic. Since we are in one, why not productively make the most of it?