When I first got into the program I’m entering this fall, I considered deferring acceptance for a year so that I could start my program with in-person classes—that’s always how I envisioned beginning a new degree.
But, I didn’t defer, and now I’m here: classes have just begun, and they’ll be largely online. I, like many of you may be as well, am a reluctant participant in this grand online learning experiment.
Facing my assumptions about online learning
I have a lot of worries when it comes to starting school this month. However, I have found that dealing with the aspects of my learning and experience that I can control has helped me feel more at peace with what I can’t.
For me, this has meant working through my pessimistic thoughts and beliefs:
How will classes function?
My biggest worry has been that this upcoming term will be just like March and April, which I found very challenging to get through. I really do commend my professors for doing their best transitioning to online classes, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t significant hitches in the road.
I realized that thinking that this upcoming term will be just like what I had experienced before is an unfair assumption to make: as one of my new professors said in a pre-term Zoom call, that was emergency online learning—it was not planned, and professors had to operate on the fly to figure out how their classes would work.
This upcoming term, every professor knows what they’re getting into—it’ll be different, sure, but there won’t be any great surprises (notwithstanding a global internet shutdown, I suppose? 2020 would though).
If you’re a new student fresh from high school, you may have had a similarly odd end-of-school-year experience as those of us at UBC did. This upcoming term won’t be like that, because all of your professors have been preparing for this for months now. True, I can’t tell you definitively what it will be like because I’ve never done this either, but baby steps...
Academics aside, won’t this still be an isolating term?
I worry about this one a lot, too. University is a lot more than classes, so not having an on-campus experience for my first year in a new program is a major letdown.
But just because I can’t physically be with people doesn’t mean this will be a lonely term—I’ve realized that I’ll just have to be proactive, and take steps now to create ties to other people and the community.
What I’m trying to do is adjust my expectations of this term early on, to stymie any potential disappointment down the road.
I’ll need to take a different approach to making friends: while I can’t say hi to the person sitting next to me in lecture, I can message classmates on Facebook. Clubs will likely largely function online, but I can still join clubs and attend virtual meetups.
The truth is, it will definitely be easier to say no to things or not seek out opportunities. While I always want to put myself out there and meet new people, sometimes it’s still intimidating, and doing it all online is a whole new lesson in building relationships. As I see it, the best course of action is to step up, send the awkward introduction message, and plan the Zoom study seshes yourself.
For me, I’m aiming to reach out to classmates in my smaller classes/tutorials early on in the term—it’s a new challenge for me to try and form relationships virtually, but I know that it's possible. Plus, even if some friendships don’t grow as hoped, I’ll know that I at least gave it a try.
The trials and tribulations of self-motivation
Another worry I have is that I’ll fall behind, since some classes may let me put off watching lectures, and I’ll only have myself to motivate me to study.
What’s different now is our study environment will remain more or less the same as our classroom environment…and our eating, sleeping, and Netflix-watching environment. With no one over my shoulder in the library silently judging me for watching YouTube when I should be studying, it might be easier to give in to my most self-sabotaging whims.
If you’re feeling a similar way, it’s important to recognize that this isn’t a new challenge—far from it.
As a university student, you are the only one who can motivate yourself to study, and that’s always been the case.
There aren’t any high school administrators calling your parents when you skip class. Unless you start handing things in late or miss a test, no one’s going to notice if you leave completing an assignment to the night before.
It is within our control to set boundaries for ourselves, and create structure in our days that may not exist otherwise. By fixing up my study space and creating an environment that works for me, I’ve been working to replicate that focused-learning library atmosphere. I also learned in my undergrad that routine is important: sleeping in until 3:00 pm (or even 10:00 am, honestly) on days you don’t have class will not serve you well on days you have an 8:00 am class.
University has always required a great deal of discipline. Now we just have to focus that discipline in different ways to set ourselves up for success.
Choosing to see what’s possible
Just because this term will look different than you had hoped doesn’t mean it’ll be a waste of your time. I truly believe that there is still a lot to look forward to, and that this year can still be academically and extracurricularly rewarding—the first step is choosing to see this as possible.
I can’t change the fact that classes will be online, but I can adjust my expectations, become more aware of negative thoughts and assumptions, and be proactive in my own way to make this term a rewarding, and intellectually stimulating experience.