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Thoughts of Third Years: University and COVID-19

Emily Boothman and Rebecca Bernthal reflect on their previous university experiences and the current changing social and economic climate as they prepare to move forwards into their final year

The Road to Third Year

Whilst in theory, getting a degree is often a three-year process, the road to graduation is far longer. Every pre-University experience is a stepping stone: academically speaking, primary school SATs get us into high school, GCSEs are the key to college, whilst A-Levels may lead you into your chosen University. However, these stepping stones aren’t just the stages of academic progression; they’re phases of our individual development – of all the things that have shaped us into the people we are.

Aspects of University can be challenging at times, but it’s overcoming these struggles that make graduating such a huge achievement for any student. Getting your degree is really the fruit of your – relatively life-long – studying labour. It’s something to be proud of, whatever your eventual classification.

It’s instilled in all of us how important every year of University is whilst we’re there. Nevertheless, it is also emphasised, at some point, that third year is ‘the final stretch’ or ‘the last push’. It’s near impossible to feel fully prepared for a year that’s worth the majority of our final grades.

Third year is hard work and, unless you’re incredibly lucky, this hard work will most likely cause stress. So, what happens when your third year is during a global health crisis?

The Effects of COVID-19

As a worldwide pandemic, almost everyone has been affected in some way by the confusion and upheaval caused by the virus.

For University progressing to the next stage of academic life, COVID really does seem to ‘put a spanner in the works’, as they say. Whether you’re a first-year student, missing out on a ‘normal’ induction period or an upcoming second year whose all-important first year at University got cut in half, COVID has already affected us all and will continue to do so for an indeterminate period of time.

As soon-to-be third-year and dissertation students (a daunting prospect, even without the current climate!) this uncertainty is difficult to both digest and plan around. The reduced contact hours resulting from COVID-19 is a universally onerous reality, which unfortunately, is no one’s fault. This year will be one like no other for all of us, but it’s key to know that we’ll all be able to succeed, regardless of the unprecedented circumstances.

Adapting to Uni During COVID-19

Whatever your area of study, the best way to approach the year is to engage with the

online material and to keep an open mind towards this new way of learning. Make lots of notes, keep track of your workload and make the most of any live sessions. Email your lecturers and your PAT with any questions or concerns and utilise the online library of PDF materials as much as possible. Though this year will require more independent learning than previous ones, don’t disregard the help and support systems that are available around the University. Arrange Teams calls with staff members to discuss assignment plans and email for help whenever you feel the need to.

Whilst everyone is undeniably apprehensive about how the year will progress in the long term, we’ll all get through the year successfully and happily by working hard and with continued support from the University.

Succeeding at University

Now, preparing for University studies can be challenging at the best of times; but during a global pandemic, a new academic year can appear even more daunting. Below are some top tips from Rebecca to help prepare for your studies and ensure that you’ll be as successful as possible this year:

Plan your time. I cannot stress this enough. Reduced scheduled hours on campus can be seen as a chance to work on ourselves and get more productive; and that means managing our time. I often spend an hour a day working on each of my modules so that I’m prepared in advance and it saves us having to do the seminar prep just before the seminar starts (we’ve all been there).

Do the set reading in advance. As students, we have a lot of texts (literary or academic) to read and it is expected that you read a good chunk of the texts in advance of each new term. I like to access the seminar prep and answer the questions alongside the text, focusing on themes, characters and general context. I would also recommend accessing the articles that your tutor provides you in accordance to the texts so that you can approach each seminar as informed as possible. And as an extra bonus, you will greatly impress your tutor too.

Read! Read! Read! I’m not just talking about set texts or articles, I’m talking about reading for leisure. Not only does reading allow us to explore other worlds, but it also helps us to improve our writing in general. Reading works by other authors allows us to pick up their sentence structure and enhances our grammar, which can then be transferred to essay writing. This means that even though you may not necessarily study English, you can transfer this to your essays for your specific subject. You never know, it may just improve your grades.

Take some time for you. I know, I know, we’ve all heard that a lot during lockdown, but it is so important. While preparing for your studies, it is important to take breaks in order to not inundate your brain with all new information. You could read a book, watch a film, make your favourite food, or walk your dog/yourself – these are just a few examples of what you could do.

With these tips, you should be able to attend seminars (digital or physical) fully prepared and it should save the stress of not doing the seminar prep and having your tutor asking you questions on something that you haven’t got round to completing (again, we’ve all been there!).

Everyone’s still uncertain as to how the upcoming weeks and months will play out. All we know for sure is that there’ll be a new version of ‘normal’ that we’ll have to try and get accustomed to.

It’s a given that this year will be at least a little confusing. At points we probably won’t be entirely sure what we’re meant to be doing. The most important thing to remember is that we’ll get through the uncertainty, the stress and the confusion - regardless of how long it takes. Just maybe, we can each make this year our best one yet.

Written by Emily Boothman and Rebecca Bernthal

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