The stereotype of a student (particularly for undergraduates) is that you’ll be really present on campus and live near to your uni, and this is certainly the case for many! However, studying and attending a degree remotely has become more and more common during the pandemic, and is quickly becoming a popular option for postgrads. With fewer physical commitments to campus, it’s easier for us to handle much of our studying from at least a train ride away from university.
As a PhD student who lives an hour away from Manchester by train and who also did my masters at this distance, I have some valuable tips for how to get the most out of being a remote postgrad student – proving that not being on campus shouldn’t negatively impact your studies.
Using online resources
We are lucky at Manchester to have both a rich library on campus and a huge online collection as well. Searching keywords into the library search on MyManchester will bring up an array of articles and books relevant for what you are looking for. Don’t forget, if you can’t find something you want directly from MyManchester, we are lucky as students to have access to many online resources that would usually need payment; JSTOR, Wiley Online Library etc. As long as you have a valid student login, these resources are there at your disposal, with no need for a visit to campus!
Making a day of it
This is my favourite way to get the most out of being a remote student whilst still making an effort to be on campus. Even if it’s just once a month, travelling to campus and aiming to get multiple things done in a day is much more productive than making the journey only to be there for an hour-long meeting and leave again. Have the meeting, get some physical books from the library that you were unable to get online, catch up with some students from your course – whatever it might be, make sure to make a day of it and ensure the journey is really worth your while. At postgrad level it’s really important to have a presence in your department, even if it’s only occasional. Popping your head in means that you meet like-minded people, you can network and get your name out there in your field of research if going into academia is your goal, and you will generally have a more enriched life as a student.
Getting cheaper train fares
On the topic of making a day of it, I think it’s also important to factor in the added cost of travel that being a remote learner entails. If you plan ahead for when you want to make a trip to campus, your train fare should be cheaper than if you booked the day before/on the day of travel. I also really recommend getting a rail card if you are 25 and under, as although this requires an outright payment of £30, the discount you’ll get for the year on every journey will massively outweigh that cost! By combining a cheaper train ticket and making sure you utilise your day on campus to the fullest, you will really feel like the trip was worth your time and money and won’t feel as though being a remote student is a disadvantage at all!
Utilising Zoom/Microsoft Teams
You should never feel that every meeting or other commitment that you need to attend should have to be in person. As a result of the pandemic, everyone at Manchester has become very accepting and understanding of people’s differing situations and so you’ll find students and teaching staff are well-accustomed to zoom meetings being the norm. I tend to operate with the premise that 4/5 of meetings will be online and one will take place on a rarer visit to campus. This ensures that I still get face-to-face contact with my supervisor once in a while, whilst still operating almost completely remotely. Other than the personal touch having face-to-face chats can bring, there really isn’t much of a difference between in-person and zoom meetings, so you shouldn’t be worried that you get less out of a meeting if you’re thinking of being a remote student.
Staying motivated and organised!
You may feel that being away from the hustle and bustle of campus can sometimes make you feel less motivated, or even make you feel like you’re not a ‘proper’ student at all. The key with this problem is to stay organised using planners, calendars etc to structure your day as if you were in uni. If you would have gone to the library on campus, go to a local library or spend time in a café searching the online library catalogue. Meet up with fellow students, even if they’re not from Manchester to get that community feel that comes with campus-living. There are really simple ways to emulate the uni experience without actually being on campus that often, and it can really help to make you feel like you’re a ‘proper’ student – functioning just like everyone else at Manchester!
Those are my top tips for being a full or partly remote student. Hopefully it’s helpful and gives some insight into how to get the most of it, and has proven that you don’t have to feel like your studying is impacted by your circumstances!