Contemplating Academia During The Pandemic

Academic turbulence this last year? Here are my musings over this time and the welcoming aid that can help us all in our community of OU students.

I know that I’m not alone when I say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed my life completely. It has changed all of us in some way. For better or for worse.

In the beginning, I thought that my time would be filled with studying. That the empty hours would become filled with learning all that I had to and that turning in my assignments will be that much quicker. But, the thing was that it wasn’t that easy. I believe it was harder.

As someone who has had a series of painful panic attacks for months years back, I found myself – once again – in a ‘survivalist’ mode where I couldn’t eat nor sleep right. I started to realise that even as someone who doesn’t usually mingle with big groups, I missed going to parks filled with people and listening to the music played by musicians that desired a chance. I missed the notion of opportunities one has in just being by somebody. A talk, a dance, a laugh. These were things that balanced my life outside of academic work and I truly wasn’t aware of how important that was to me.

Instead of filling my hours with my head buried into my laptop, notebooks and textbooks, after a couple of months, I started to ache for the times that have passed and caved inward. I attempted to balance with the minimalism of gardening and social media, but it was an attempt that failed me. I retreated more as my friends, even the extraverted ones, did.

In that sense, I know that I am not alone here from those who are the closest to me and I know that I am not alone from those who are strangers to me.

Perhaps yes, for some of us, studying became a way to cope with the pandemic and not going through the motions of life. It was a dream come true, to some extent. One may even dare to say that those who benefitted have the stronger mental stamina for studying and doing assignments.

For others, our academic life and mental health went through a tough round of uncertainty and a cycle of annoyance. It was a frustration and a struggle reflecting on the past, the comfort of balancing home and social life. 

I know it also meant that for many of us, we started lacking in academic experiences that were meant to help us grow and gain – like conferences, lectures, exams, labs, workshops… You name it. And we had to roll through the punches of a new digital age that tried its best to fit our needs into a format without physical human contact.

How do we reach a sense of comfort and normalcy in a time and in a place that has been so stagnant and blank? How do we move past loneliness and the lack of support we feel in being thrown to the deep end?

We might have all heard of a saying that goes, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.” And if we keep that in mind, I’m not so sure that the answer would be the same for everyone.

With my little insight and minimal experience in this new age, all while trying to hold my balance, here’s what I do know that can maybe help everyone with a start – even if we forget or think of it as our last resort:

Before starting my second year with the OU, the Student Support Team, along with advisors, helped me a lot when I was confused about where I saw myself academically and what to do next in changing majors. To be honest, it was quite an awakening time, although intimidating at first. I was nurtured, cared for and guided with support, advice, insight and open-ended questions. It’s an experience I will never forget and will always be grateful for. 

While I do regret not having reached out more in these difficult times – even with my current tutor – as I retreated and became a bit of a mess in this pandemic, there is a sense of safety and protection here that has always been and probably always will be available to me.

This I extend to you like knowledge, even though limited to my point of view.

As my colleague, no matter if you are with the OU currently or not, I am sure that there is a team of people that want to see you grow and are more than willing to guide you as you walk through this path, even under uncertain circumstances. 

Don’t wait to reach out. Don’t be afraid to recognize what it is you need to work on and see if some others or tools can help you. We can learn and be much more capable this way rather than avoiding it – even if it seems like an easier route to look down, stay silent and not admit to it. The only way out of this weird time is through.

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