Could I make it as a studytuber?

Could I make it as a studytuber? : Mauro Lourenco

2021, another year of lockdown and the continuation of “unprecedented times”. Despite being a full-time registered PhD student, I have not set foot into my University, Wits, since March of 2020, but the show must go on. Anyone that has completed their PhD will tell you how much it consumed their life. And so, I was surprised to find out that there is a community of students called “studytubers” across the world that are filming their student life from home, and posting their videos on YouTube with a massive following.

In light of this, the SAYAS blogging team was encouraged to create our own studytuber video, sharing a day in our PhD lives during lockdown. This is not my first time on camera, I was an extra in a cricket-themed Indian cell phone commercial produced at the Sandton Convention Centre. The commercial was shot in 2017 with famous players from the Indian national cricket team. It never aired on South African TV, but it is on YouTube, click here and see if you can spot me within the first 10 seconds. In my high school days, I was the amateur cameraman for a friend that enjoyed filming pranks, where I featured in a few videos.

My intention before the production was that my video should accurately reflect a day in my student life from home, with the thoughts “it must be authentic” ringing in my head. However, it is difficult to film a truly authentic day when I do not ever film myself in the first place, and so I felt that capturing exactly what happens on a normal day is impossible, as so much of this ‘day in the life’ would be spent setting up camera angles, and deciding on time lapse speeds. I decided to film on a Thursday, a day that is usually quieter compared to the others, as I was worried that I would struggle to both film and succeed in my duties if I chose a busier day. To my surprise, I managed to get a lot of work done even whilst filming. I have big expectations for my PhD during 2021, and so it is clear that these slower days will be few and far between. 

Working from home, or as someone more appropriately put it “living at work”, has become a new way of life for everyone. We can all admit that lockdown workdays are extremely varied, with the only constant being at home. You have breakthrough days, and you have nightmare days, especially when undertaking research. Although sometimes out of my control, my nightmare days are as a result of a lack of planning, laziness and becoming distracted with the comforts of home. To counter this, I try to be as organised as possible and plan each day, and so avoid taking too many unnecessary breaks . The rollercoaster that is a PhD is something that takes time getting used to.

Whilst watching the video back I realised that I am truly fortunate to have a stable home environment from which to work. I can only imagine how difficult other home situations may be. As far as the video making goes, it was enjoyable, and I thought I would be more nervous about it. On reflection, I was not as self-conscious as I have been in my past, perhaps due to the “it is what it is mentality” adopted by many these days. Hopefully you have enjoyed an example of a more relaxed day in my PhD life, complete with snack guides – including cake, some personal literature review advice, and a home workout routine.


A fairly routine day of PhDing under lockdown level 3

A fairly routine day of PhDing under lockdown level 3 : Leah Junck

Starting my PhD in 2016, I felt accelerated by the prospect of conducting interviews across Cape Town for my anthropological Tinder study. Fortunately, these were the pre-Covid 19 days and I successfully managed to recruit participants via the app and meet up with them regularly over the course of almost two years. As I mention in the video: I’m now relatively close to submitting my thesis. That means that I have done the bulk of readings, concluded my ethnographic fieldwork and am, currently, mostly stuck behind my laptop. Some days, I can embrace that. Although sometimes frustrating, it feels rewarding to produce something that contains a lot of yourself.

Before lockdown, much of my thesis writing was done in cafés and in the company of a good friend of mine, Miriam (moral support from peers is hugely important). With the situation out there as it is, Corona-wise, I resolved to staying at home as much as possible. My vlog might suggest that, as a result of staying within the confines of my home, my life now resembles near-stillness. But that is not the case. As the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic highlights, accelerated changes have a way of nestling themselves rather quietly into routines. Even for postgraduates who cannot conduct fieldwork in a traditional way at the moment, there is more happening than meets the eye. Actually, many scholars find themselves in a curious place of rethinking the very paradigms of their field of study and that is more movement than would happen under ‘normal’ circumstances.

Depending on what you’re studying, the day in the life of your PhD might be very different to your peers, and could vary considerably day to day. You might spend more or less time reading, analysing and writing. You may be in a lab, at your desk or busy with fieldwork in a particular setting – at least once the lockdown days are behind us. Perhaps you engage more with people, with microbes or machines. In any case, your day-to-day life culminates in navigating the way towards a ‘significant contribution to our field’, as they say in the thesis evaluation process. (Side note: I always had the vision of an executioner in my mind when thinking about examiners and am currently learning to embrace the process of being evaluated. But that’s for another time).

All of that said, if you’re currently mulling over the possibility of a PhD, take this video as just one scenario and let your imagination run wild as to what it could look like for you. I find that the best thing about PhD is the freedom it offers, although, of course, within some academic confines. So it is, indeed, largely up to you what you want to do with it.