Studying remotely can be frustrating at times. You can’t just walk down to the library for a book, pop in to see your supervisor or just enjoy the University environment that can often help to motivate when motivation is low. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t aware of what studying remotely entailed, but nevertheless I find some days more of a struggle than others to stay on track. Whilst the University has systems in place to help those working remotely keep in touch and feel part of the wider academic community, I’ve discovered a few tips that certainly help me to navigate some of the trickier aspects of distance learning.
Firstly, my studies require me to travel from London to Sheffield fairly often, about three to four times a month to attend seminars and meet with my supervisors. Although London obviously has good transport connections, train fares can be criminally expensive for trips that take over an hour. If you don’t mind taking a bus then prices can be far more reasonable, but often take longer and aren’t always on time depending on other traffic. However, I’ve recently discovered that megabus.com offer discounted rates on train fares, regardless of railcard discounts. Unfortunately, these discounted fares don’t often include weekends or peak times on a Friday, but, if you can work out where you need to be a few weeks beforehand, you can often save a fair amount of money if you tweak your travel plans a little. These ‘megatrain’ prices don’t only apply to London to Sheffield trains, but a wide variety of destinations, so it may be well worth looking into.
Another reality of working remotely is that often, having loaned a book out from either the Information Commons or Western Bank libraries during a trip to Sheffield, you find that someone else has requested to loan the book after you and the due date falls between visits to the University. This sometimes means posting the book back to Sheffield, which can cost a fair bit to do – especially as you have to insure the book against damage or being lost in transit. It’s here that the University of Sheffield’s reputation comes in useful, as I’ve found many university libraries here in London are happy to provide temporary library access for external students. I myself have found University College London incredibly helpful in terms of providing short-term access to resources that otherwise would have to wait for a trip to Sheffield. Loan policies may not offer the same flexibility of internal students, but is better than postponing your work for the sake of logistics. I know London perhaps has a greater selection of libraries than other cities but, depending on your location, it’s definitely worth looking into as it not only gives you access to the resources you need, but helps creates a working environment which is quite nice to be a part of when you often miss out working remotely.
For others working in London there is, most obviously, the British Library. I have to say this offers an unparalleled selection of sources, though there are a few things to bear in mind when visiting. You must first register as a reader, which takes a separate trip after pre-registering online, as you can’t then just browse titles – you have to request the resources you wish to look at least 12 hours in advance. Understandably, the British Library also has a fair few rules and security regulations for visiting readers such as no ink just a pad and pencil, no bags or coats and everything else must be placed in a transparent bag for inspection upon arrival. This can make a visit a bit long-winded, but if you have everything arranged you can spend a solid day exploring their resource library. It is an impressive building and often a stimulating environment to work in.
The thing I probably miss the most working remotely is the research group mentality, meeting and talking with others who share the same interests as me. Luckily, I’ve found a few groups here in London who are more than happy to welcome in ‘outsiders’, as I deem myself anyway. There are official groups, part of other universities (UCL) or research organisations (Animal History Group), and unofficial ones too, set up by others passionate about a subject. Whilst these groups don’t always align perfectly with my research interests, it’s reassuring to have a community here in London too. So I would definitely recommend checking out what’s going on in your city – you never know what you may find out!