There is an academic acceptance that doctoral studies are a complex, multifaceted endeavour bound with the differing, emerging and contrasting identities of the students who undertake them. This article explores such journeys in the context of one of the most disruptive events to hit the higher educational sector worldwide: COVID-19. The study utilises data collected via an online forum established to collectively explore the challenges, the opportunities and the tensions in the lives of 12 students enrolled in a doctoral degree in an Australian higher education institution. Results indicate that the journey of such students pre-COVID-19 was characterised by a sense of liminality, agency and journey. COVID-19 exacerbated such feelings. The conclusion points to a need to enhance spaces of agency in the graduate research experience to reflect the multidimensionality of students’ lives.