Looking back to look forward: a semester of COVID-19

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I never would have thought I would go on to study a MSc, never mind trying to do so in the middle of a pandemic! I can confidently say that the past semester has taught me much more than I ever expected from a (pre-COVID) university experience. In the spirit of the new year, here are some of my reflections and lessons learnt from my first semester at Surrey.

Steve the Stag at the Surrey Business School is also wearing his mask!

Hybrid Learning – a blessing in disguise

Hybrid learning was, and in many cases, still is, a topic of concern for students. At the beginning, I struggled to navigate around SurreyLearn, understand how to use Panopto and learn from a lecturer when I couldn’t even see their face! Whilst this was a challenge and took a bit of time to adjust to, it also allowed me to work according to my own schedule. Knowing I was most productive after breakfast and before dinner, I made sure to tackle my more challenging topics during this time, which helped me to maximise my productivity based on my personal preferences. As I have never had recorded lectures available to me before, this allowed me to take my time to learn, pause, and take a moment to digest the information, instead of just scribbling notes down as fast as I could during an in-person lecture. I was then able to arrive to my lectures, ask questions and debate with my peers.

Meistertask and my weekly planner help me to manage my time

Structure your day

Organization, planning and structure is always the advice given to students, but during the pandemic, this advice rings truer that ever! For my course, instead of the usual 3 hours of class per lesson, we had 1 hour, with the remainder of the content moved online to be completed in our own time. I found myself having to be a little strict with myself, setting times to work, planning my time, and making to-do lists. I personally use Meistertask to create a weekly to do list for each class and use a weekly planner to manage my schedule. With increased time on my hands, I tried to get into a schedule, which was by no means an easy task, given I had spent the past year working shifts in the hotel industry. It was a challenge at the beginning, but I aim to wake up at a certain time (8 hours after I settle into bed, to maintain a good sleep schedule!), schedule my mealtimes in, set a cut off time to stop working and wind down, and also try to get ready for bed at 11pm! Regulating a few aspects of my day helped me to manage my work and personal time when I had so much freedom in how to spend my time.

I pass the Centre for Wellbeing on my way to my lectures (the red/orange building on the left)

Help is truly just a message away

As it was my first year at Surrey and I also had to organize my placement year, I definitely felt the pressure! I received so much support from the university to help me with my degree and career development. When securing my placement, the careers department provided virtual employability workshops, I made personal appointments to review my CV and cover letters, and my placement teacher provided me with advice to prepare my application and after I had received an offer. Given the economic downturn, with the support of the careers and placement team, I managed to secure my placement! Within my faculty, our lecturers used online drop-in sessions to compensate for the usual ‘office hours’ and always showed a willingness to spend as much time as we needed to clarify our understanding. My personal tutor also took the time to check in and gather feedback on our course and personal wellbeing. Furthermore, the university has a variety of resources dedicated to ensuring students are able to access the help they need, for example the centre of wellbeing, nightline, disability and neurodiversity services, and the Union president – Lizzie, is currently holding drop-in sessions too.

After class, my peers and I try to stay outdoors and take a break between classes

We’re all in the same boat

Perhaps the most important lesson I learnt was that you are absolutely not alone. A lot of the concerns you have about hybrid learning, making friends and 24 hour exams are likely to be shared with other people too. So many people are also struggling with the uncertainty that was thrust upon us this year, and I have felt so much relief when reaching out to others in my class, connecting over our concerns and working together to help each other overcome the challenges. As a course representative, I have also been able to escalate and solve issues with different modules and worked with faculty to make improvements. More than anything, 2020 has truly shown how resilient the Surrey community has proven to be throughout the uncertainty and unpredictability of COVID-19.