Trying to make it all look normal: A day in the life of a Masters student

Trying to make it all look normal: A day in the life of a Master’s student: Ditshego Masete

My walk to university from where I stay could count as my exercise for the day. It takes about 20 minutes usually, but if I’m running late it takes as little as 10 minutes. If I do it that fast, I need to have a face cloth with me to deal with all the sweat, and no one wants to start a day with a shirt that is soaked in sweat. The 20 minute walk takes me to the main gate of the university, and I then need to walk a further 8-10 minutes to get to the library. By the time I get to library I am exhausted, but I still get my research done.

The library is where it all happens. It opens at 8:30 and by 8:15 every morning, Monday to Friday, I am at the library doors waiting for them to let me in. It always feels like I am an executive. The security lady who opens every morning knows me by my first name, by now. So, we exchange greetings and I proceed to the post-graduate cubicles. A small room in which I stay cooped up all day long while scratching my head and staring at my laptop. That is before the COVID-19 pandemic of course.

And that is the thing. My research is desktop-based. I do not have to go to the field to gather data, or to the lab for experiments. I am a Master of Arts in Literature student. I read novels and philosophically and scientifically interpret them, situating their narratives in the existing contexts of humanity. It all sounds easy I know. But no, it is not as easy as it sounds. There is a lot of reading that happens before a chapter of my thesis can be produced. As a literature student, the selected novels I read for a study are my primary data, the journal articles, critical theory, interviews and other material are my secondary data.

Now with COVID-19 everything is different, as you can imagine. The library is closed as it is seen as a closed space that could easily become a hotspot. That means there is no need for the walk. It also means a drop in productivity because I stay in my room and try to do my work. While I am working I see dust on my kitchen counter I get up to clean it, then I see a spider I get up to take care of it, you can imagine the constant distractions when I am at home. But I think the most important thing worth noting is even with these distractions  I am not like the other researchers whose work came to a complete halt because of COVID-19 because all I need is a table, chair, my laptop and a bit of internet and then I set the house on fire.  

Yes, we have normal lives like everyone else. It is not easy, but it is very exciting.

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.