Graduate Degree in ‘Pandemicing’
My experience as a graduate student in midst of a global pandemic
By Malka Dubin, M.S. Candidate, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
It’s safe to say that 2020 and COVID-19 have brought unexpected hurdles to most humans on planet Earth, affecting every population including young children, the elderly, middle-aged adults, men, women, mothers, fathers, grandparents, professionals, essential and non-essential workers, each in unique ways. One demographic that has been uniquely affected is those individuals who are in graduate programs, such as myself. With what feels like the flip of a switch, graduate students were thrust from the familiarity of their school buildings and classrooms to a fully online interface, seeing their classmates and professors only from the neck up, behind a screen. While we expected to be using ZOOM for a few weeks, I don’t believe any of us graduate students could have predicted last March that we would still be meeting online in November of 2020.
As a graduate student during COVID-19, some of the challenges that are the most salient are the lack of social connections, the blurred line between home, school and work, and the many distractions that are present when learning from home.
The lack of social connections is an effect that I feel firsthand and a sentiment that many of my colleagues share as well. Most of us graduate students are busy with work and family life, and we look forward to the few minutes of chatter before and after class that we can engage in with our classmates. For many of us, our social interactions during class were the only ones that existed that day. Without the empty space before, after, and during class to fill with conversation and connection with friends, class feels like an isolated and purely didactic experience.
Additionally, I know that myself and others have been struggling with the integration of work, home, and school. Prior to COVID-19, each of the aforementioned categories had their own designated environment, which allowed for the proper headspace and focus for each. However, with the switch to working and learning from home, all the proverbial boxes have been dumped into one basket, making it tempting to try to take care of home, school, and work all at the same time. While it sounds ideal to be able to fold laundry while learning about cognitive restructuring techniques, in reality, it is impossible to fully invest in two things at one time.
Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to students, there is one meaningful takeaway that I feel will leave an impression on us students far more than any lecture or PowerPoint. That is, we have seen the incredible human capacity to adapt and be resilient. Despite the anxiety and fear that many of us are experiencing due to the unpredictability and questions about the future, students across the world have found a way to adjust to the “new normal,” and stay committed to their education. Instructors and students alike have created innovative ways to learn, utilizing online tools that had never been harnessed before. Additionally, we have found channels to interpersonal connection through online tools such as ZOOM chat, email groups, and breakout rooms to continue to foster the sense of belonging that is so important to the graduate experience.
There is an overall newfound sense of responsibility amongst us students, and that is that it is our duty to arm ourselves with quality education so that the next time the world is faced with unpredictable circumstances, we will have the knowledge and tools to help humanity through it.