Student Life in a Pandemic
Student Life in a Pandemic
When news of the severity of the virus started circulating in late February/early March, there seemed to be lack of discussions regarding the impact on university students, and a hasty decision was made to shut campuses across the UK following the announcement of a full lockdown on March 23rd. As the situation began to stabilise over the following 6 months and students returned back to school and university, there was a new normal to become accustomed to. This involved the shift to online teaching and learning in order to ensure staff and student safety, a novel approach taken by universities across the country after months of planning and organisation. The following details a typical day in the life of a final year student at the University of Birmingham studying remotely during COVID-19.
The first day of university for the new academic year started very differently for many students across the country, as this year access to campus is limited and almost no face-to-face teaching is allowed. I have no contact hours on campus this semester so meetings, seminars and practicals are online via Zoom, and lecture content is pre-recorded, ready for us to watch at our own pace. In many ways the set up this year is far more organised than it has been previously, which seems to be the only positive that has come out of this year so far. However, there is a heightened sense of loneliness that comes with little human contact, yet adjusting to everything online has brought its own learning curve. I try to wake up early still – around 8 – in an effort to maintain some sort of routine, despite having very little timetabled structure to the day that I used to work well with pre-COVID. Since there’s no teaching on campus there’s no rush to get ready and be anywhere for a certain time, so mornings are usually more relaxed, allowing more time for staying in bed before getting up for breakfast and preparing for the day ahead.
I aim to start university work around 10 or 11, depending on how soon I manage to drag myself out of bed after my alarms have gone off. Before this, at the start of every week, I try to plan out what I want to get done each day so I have a rough guide of how early I need to start or how late I need to finish in order to get everything done before the next week's load of work gets uploaded. The week mainly consists of lectures for the 2 modules that I’m taking for this semester, the content for which has increased since university has shifted to an online format. Parts of this can be stressful at times, as it seems like there isn’t enough time to complete everything before the week is over, but the increased support from the lecturers helps, and they get back to emails quicker too. It’s important to take short, frequent breaks as I’ve found that staring at a screen all day has been giving me more headaches. In order to combat this, I have been making use of the limited access we are allowed to campus, and have been printing out reading for seminars and data for my dissertation. This way I have a physical copy of the work, one that doesn’t strain my eyes, and giving myself tasks in different forms to focus on to break up the day.
Lunch is quick, serving as a respite from the work, but not lasting too long in order to maintain motivation to get work done, which can be a struggle at times. Especially since being off from university for 6 months and not having any formal exams for the last academic year, it was easy to quickly fall out of routine. I’ve struggled with getting back into the swing of things, especially now since university has started, but a timetable has helped this. At the start of lockdown, we were still given assessed work to complete. I moved back home, away from friends that I didn’t know when I’d see again as we all scattered back across the UK. This was a very intimidating and isolating feeling, and it wasn’t until 6 (almost 7) months later when I was able to reunite with my university friends, however this came with a shift in the dynamic. Compulsory face masks and social distancing were not in place when we were all together last time, so it seemed strange coming back and not being able to make physical contact, and I think this is something that everyone is still trying to become accustomed to.
On the more exciting days, the monotonous schedule of university work is broken up by collecting packages, doing the laundry, or doing the weekly food shop. Looking back, I can now appreciate these small acts, as they are often the only times I can get out of the flat and remember that there are other people in such a big city. Since returning to university and Birmingham being put under stricter measures, the days have begun to feel the same – a mix of working, eating, sleeping. It’s difficult to break this regime, so I try to take advantage of the access to campus, as I especially enjoy taking in the sights on campus as the seasons change.
Dinner time rolls around between 4 and 5, depending on the amount of work I’ve done by that point. I continue doing work at around 6, working until 8 or 9 at the latest, before getting ready for bed and unwinding for the night with a film. I try not to stay up too late in an attempt to maintain routine, and get ready for doing the same day again tomorrow. I’m sure after a while this will get monotonous, but for now I’m just getting used to it and enjoying the new sense of purpose to my days after 6 long months with no real routine.