Woah! A Pandemic! Help I’m only a student!

28 July 2021

Swept up by the pandemic and still swimming – what can you learn from a student pandemic experience?

How it hit us (Spoiler: Hard!)

I remember when Covid-19 started. The hand-washing posters going up glares when someone coughed in the library, the thinning numbers on campus. It was so surreal. My friends and I thought it was going to be short-lived – we couldn’t and initially didn’t bother to process it.

And then Uni announced they were closing, and all my exams were cancelled (which, to be fair, I was relieved about). Opening that e-mail was bizarre. I bumped into some 4th years on that day. They just had to carry on writing their dissertation – time, deadlines, work, none of it really stopped for us and it still hasn’t.

Then it was stockpiling and cancelled club nights. There were videos of people in Hazmat suits going into different university accommodations being shared everywhere. It was a strange mix of fear, the smell of hand-sanitiser and struggling to go out for a pizza!

Finally, there was the evacuation. There was just such a lack of information, so much panic. Vast swathes of us left overnight, I had friends dodging closing borders – desperately trying to get on last flights, leaving at 4am. There were no good goodbyes. Everything was disjointed and unnerving.

I bin-bagged up all my belongings and left Edinburgh, my base, my friends, and my routine for 6 months.

The Interim – the growth coming from lockdown #1

Lockdown number 1 for a student was probably similar to yours. Pub Quiz Zooms, semi-horrendous social media challenges (I’m looking at you 5k challenge- I’m still out of breath), and general boredom.

But, with our classes having ended early, a lot of us got pretty frustrated with being unproductive and ungrounded. Not all of that period was a complete dead time for us students.

We joined courses, started businesses, taught our siblings maths. I have a friend who made masks with profits going to BLM, another who designed and built an electric skateboard from scratch, I personally, and slightly less excitingly, attempted to learn how to code (note the stress on attempted).

The pandemic condensed our lives. Once filled daily with lectures (100+ people), parties (30+ people) and clubs (300+ people), we existed in a close circle of family and friends (maybe 5+ people depending on how popular you are….). The lifestyle change we underwent is incomparable.

But we also managed to grow and develop in the new environment.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire – university life during a pandemic

Going back to university was just so exciting. Being around people my own age and having stuff to do – what a phenomenon!

But this university year was peppered with constant disruptions: tiers, lockdowns, it being illegal for us to go home! It was a terrifying time for many. I was lucky, I had a great flat and a solid group of friends but a lot of people weren’t as fortunate.

We swapped clubs and parties for the classic outdoor coffee/walk combo, ordering in, and having people over for dinner (inevitably a curry or pasta bake). It’s not been bad but it’s really different to how you would expect to spend your time at Uni and is, by virtue of that, very frustrating.

The problems we experience were not solely social. They were academic too.

Our universities continually failed us this year. My contact hours were dropped from 8 to 2 a week and were solely online. Imagine – £9,250 for about 44 hours?! Languages students had to fight to get abroad. Students with practical courses like Art or Biology had limited or no access to studio space or labs. Medical students were drafted into the frontline early with little practical experience.

We’ve been neglected and pushed to our limits. The lack of support provided – particularly with mental health- is astonishing too.

I’ve heard stories from tonnes of universities. There have been breakdowns in communications between departments and students leading to problems such as unrealistic, clashing deadlines, poor provision of materials (essential texts not online and library closed), and just a general lack of contact. We have had no care or attention shown to us except for maybe when we get fenced in at our accommodation…

Yet, as I said before, nothing has stopped for us. We are still expected to get the same grades, to manage and to get a good job.

But it’s not all gloomy – things are improving and as I’m moving towards graduating next year I feel like I am a stronger person. All students are – we’ve adapted incredibly and with little to no external help.

So – what can employers learn from this?

A lot, in sum. But I think the main takeaway to consider is that your new graduate cohort will have been through an abnormal, tough, and very probably isolating time.

Here are my top tips on how you can be a better employer:

  • Be there. Keep in touch, check in and show that you care. We want to feel like a valued part of something!
  • Be kind. The mental health of young people has taken a massive hit this year. After reading my story you can probably see why – there have been so many widespread and far-reaching issues throughout all aspects of our lives. So be kind as overloading can be damaging to us and our productivity.
  • Create a community and provide stuff to do! We’ve been trapped in an eternal circle of ‘going on walks’ for the last year. We want to get out, be involved and have fun! Whether that be an online pub quiz, a sports team or a company trip out for dinner anything and everything is better than nothing. We want a workplace that is social as well as supportive and compassionate!

We hope you liked reading this and if you wanted to find out more about the work we do here at 106 Comms feel free to drop me a line for a chat –

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