‘Regular screen breaks and hobbies’ - home studying tips from Britain’s youngest PhD student

Taking your eyes off the screen every now and then to pick up an instrument is how the UK’s youngest PhD student copes with online learning.

Pok sitting at his piano at his home in South Queensferry picture: Wang Pok Lo

And 17-year-old Wang Pok Lo, known as Pok, would know best since he studied for his first degree from home aged nine – of which he received a first class honours in maths.

The prodigy student, from South Queensferry, is currently researching for a PhD in population health sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

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We thought we would check-in with Pok to hear about his home-studying tips, a way of learning many of his peers have had to adapt to in the wake of Covid, but a practice he’s been doing for almost a decade.

“It’s really important to take regular breaks from your screen,” said Pok, who also completed a masters in statistics online in his spare time with Sheffield University aged 15.

“When material is online, it gives you the impression that there is a lot to do, so it’s really important to break up your day by stepping away from your screen.”

A suggestion on what to do to make the most of a break?

Pok said you can’t fault a hobby to help you give your mind a rest from work – for him, it’s music.

“I have a piano and a guitar in my bedroom.

“Having them there to hand makes it easier for me to take a break if I feel like I need it, and focus on something completely different.

“I play a combination of classical and pop rock.”

With his passion in problem solving, Pok said chess is also a hobby he indulges in to take his mind off studying.

And, in an era where online chat is happening more than ever before, it doubles up as a sociable activity.

"I don’t get out much at the moment,” he said.

"I would be on campus if it wasn’t for the pandemic.

"So I’ve signed up to the chess society at Edinburgh University which has been a great way to keep in touch with other students and chat to people.

“You have to take precautions with this virus, I try and stay inside as much as possible, so it’s important to have some different hobbies on the go.”

Sticky notes? Colour coded files? Calendar to fill in assignment dates? There’s no need. Pok swears by the Microsoft To Do app which he claims does it all for you, virtually.

“This app is great for helping you organise your work,” he said.

“It helps keep workload clear, and even alerts you when you have tests or deadlines to meet. I really recommend it.”

Whether you are studying for school assignments, a university degree or a doctorate, Pok, who has experience with all three, said communication is key.

“It might seem obvious, but keeping in touch with your teachers and classmates is really important.

“Make contact if you aren’t sure.

“This contact is also good for boosting engagement with your work.”

Pok plans to study medicine at Oxford University, specialising in cardiology or neurology, after his PhD.

The current record for the youngest PhD student in the UK is held by child prodigy Ruth Lawrence who got a doctorate from Oxford in 1989 at the age of 17.

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