The impact of COVID-19 has been felt by all of us. We are all at different stages in our professional lives, so we each experienced the pandemic in different ways. We have had to adapt to this “new normal,” and make the best of our new situations. The following are our personal experiences related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
For our thoughts on the reopening of schools in the fall, please see this post by Stephen.
My experience with COVID-19 brought on a myriad of complicated emotions and experiences. For one, I was very naive when news of the outbreak first began. I split my time between Tallahassee and Tampa, so when I left for Spring Break, I assumed that we would be back after at most one month and didn’t bring a lot of things with me. Obviously, I was very wrong. I left a lot of the research materials I needed in my office (or in the FSU library… still sitting on the shelf). Most of my research projects and end of term assignments were still in their infancy, and so learning to quickly navigate various archives and online libraries brought more emotional ups and downs that I care to remember. The fear from the pandemic and the stress of the uncertainty of school really took a toll on my mental health. A lot of other people in my program were dealing with the same feelings, and we began doing mental health checks with one another. Although my experience isn’t necessarily unique, knowing that I wasn’t alone helped me to keep sane throughout all the chaos going on. Alongside the fear and the panic, I also learned so much about how to adapt, to lean on friends, to change my footing and regain my balance. Knowing that I wasn’t alone, and letting others lean on me, as well as allowing myself moments of weakness, helped me to understand myself, my limits, and my relationships in a new way.
The COVID outbreak totally upended the last semester of graduate school. Everything that had been planned out by both the university and myself for the semester was suddenly forced to change as a result of the global pandemic. In my personal case, this forced a lot of adjustments to my coursework. I was in the middle of preparing for my comprehensive exams, and a few books still hadn’t arrived yet. While I was able to find most online, after some searching, I had to change some aspects of my list since I was unable to get the books I needed to prepare. This was coupled with the shift of my courses to online. A saving grace during this time was how helpful the professors at USF were during this period. For both my courses and my comps, they were readily available and willing to meet outside of class and help in any way they could. This was a bright point during this stressful time. The biggest event affected by COVID was graduation. Once the campuses began to shut down in March, I figured that it was doubtful. Overall, this was incredibly disappointing, as this was going to be the culmination of my efforts in grad school.
As a first year Ph.D. student, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted my academic experience immensely in various aspects. Many of my colleagues endured similar experiences. Based on my experience, the transition was wrought with technological and logistical obstacles for professors and students alike. Libraries and labs closed or limited the amount of people allowed into them severely affecting the research and writing process. As the home turned into the makeshift office and classroom, the stress of having to abruptly adjust to this new normal decreased my motivation to attend classes and complete assignments. Before the pandemic, I only had one online class as an undergraduate and based on that experience I never had the desire to take one ever again.
My professors who were accustomed to lecturing in-person found themselves restrained by video conferencing tools in an effort to accommodate and support students’ educational needs, through synchronous or asynchronous classes. Without the university setting to facilitate social camaraderie, participation, and intellectual thought, I felt as though discussions and exchanges of ideas between myself, other students, and professors ceased to exist in a meaningful manner. I lost the excitement to learn and interact with professors and colleagues.
As an incoming Ph.D. student, the unfortunate limitations from the pandemic make it likely my first semester will be quite unconventional. While no decision has been made about in-person classes yet, I anticipate a limited on-campus experience at best and mostly synchronous online seminars using Zoom. In other words, not the ideal start for trying to learn the culture of the program and getting to know future colleagues. Although the graduate director has already hosted a Zoom meeting for incoming students in an attempt to foster better connections and provide information, the experience is not the same. Remembering the friendships I made in my Master’s program, this constrained online format might not allow for those same connections early on. I’m hoping with the previous semester finishing online that the program and university have made more decisions to help replicate some of the intangible elements of university for incoming students.
My personal experience with COVID-19 may be a little different than the rest of my fellow contributors here. I work in the state archives and I primarily deal with court cases, so I’m sending anything that the archives have on a case to whoever requests it. When COVID-19 started to become an issue, the first thing that was done in my department was to offer telework to those who can take their work home. As for me, because I handle official documents, I did not have an option of working from home. So to make things safer, the two people I shared an office with were moved to different locations before they were set up for telework and I was left alone.
Even though most places have been shut down, including courts, the archives have been getting a lot of requests. With limited staff, that being me and a one other person, the archives were swamped with work. Even as the work piled on and my focus was solely on getting the requests filled, it wasn’t difficult to notice the number of people in the offices decreasing. What was usually a busy department, suddenly became a ghost town. For a period of about two weeks there were only three people at the office in our entire department. It was a very lonely time; however, people have been slowly coming back although many will continue to work from home until it is safe enough to come back.
The end of the semester sucked. There’s no way to get around it, and there’s no reason to try to deny that fact. The best advice I received, (which was from my therapist, so it’s very wise), was just to accept that coronavirus was going to heighten my anxiety and depression. The threat of pandemic in the background should cause anxiety, and the first step to dealing with it was accepting the new part of the world, and then learning how to deal with it.
In the tail end of the semester, I had lost every ounce of my motivation. Suddenly I didn’t have to travel back and forth to campus and couldn’t spend time with friends. I found myself with a plethora of time for work, but assignments didn’t seem as crucial because I was no longer busy with anything else. I had collected the books I thought I needed, and professors, luckily, gave me promises of some leniency, but the motivation was no longer there. It made me feel like a failure every day. Due dates suddenly became the day I was doing assignments, and it certainly wasn’t my best work, but it got done. The semester had a lackluster ending, and oddly enough, it feels like it never ended at all. My transition into summer is still full of stress and anxiety, and that’s ok. I’m not doing my best work, I’m not living each day to its full potential, and I’m certainly not doing those readings that my advisor wants me to do every day. I do a little when I can, but the best thing for me was to learn to forgive myself for not being ok in the middle of a pandemic.