Post-COVID Reflection: Entering 3rd Year
By: Bhargavi Venkat
This article is part of a series of reflections by our team on their experiences during the pandemic. Bhargavi Venkat, co-VP Content of The Mentorship Spot, will chronicle her journey of undergoing university through a pandemic. She is currently entering 3rd year of the Health Sciences program at McMaster University.
Study habits: As I started university during the pandemic, a lot of my study habits had to be adapted both to the increased workload of university as well as the new online environment. Fortunately, I found this transition comfortable with a little bit of research. In terms of organization, I found a free online calendar service (google calendar), a to-do list app (microsoft to-do), and a general all-in-one platform (Notion). These help me keep track of my asynchronous and synchronous online sessions while also ensuring that I remain present in any new extracurricular opportunities. I also started to use Anki for memorization-heavy courses and OneNote for both handwritten and typed notes on my laptop. These study habits proved to be staples in my routine even after university transitioned in-person.
Learning experience: Learning online is a very different experience to in-person learning. I found that it was definitely easier to attend classes and resources were more accessible as they were all in one place instead of scattered between the physical and online world. However, the one hindrance I continue to face is staying focused online. This is even more difficult with the ever-present distractions of phones, social media, TV, etc. I’m still trying to figure out how to resolve this problem but the organizational platforms I listed above definitely seem to help!
Did you find that it was harder to find extracurricular/research opportunities?: I think it was easier to find extracurricular opportunities as the pandemic resulted in many people starting new initiatives that they were passionate about. This resulted in a lot more interesting opportunities for me to be a part of, including The Mentorship Spot! I also liked that a lot of these clubs did not require you to meet in person, especially university clubs, which made them a lot more accessible. Research was much more difficult to find, especially as networking with professors became more difficult during online classes. Wet lab positions were completely transformed by COVID but as I was more interested in dry-lab/clinical research, I tried finding related online opportunities.
How did you change the way that you looked/applied for opportunities?: For extracurricular opportunities, I relied on Facebook groups, Instagram pages and university websites. These allowed me to fully utilize the online transition and maximized my chances of finding something I was interested in. In terms of research, I learnt that as frustrating as tiresome as the process is, cold-emailing definitely works. In fact, I got my current supervisor through cold-emailing!
Did you like the increase in online extracurriculars or do you prefer interacting in-person? Why?: I liked online extracurriculars because I commute from home to university and online opportunities reduce my travel time. I also found that they were more accessible and I could join initiatives with people from all over the world. Nevertheless, I did miss getting to see and meet people in-person, especially as we’ve been stuck at home for so long.
Mental Health and Overall Health
What were some ways in which your mental and physical health was affected during the pandemic? How did you take care of your mental health and overall health during the pandemic?: My mental health both improved and took a hit over the course of the pandemic. In the beginning, I was actually creating a stronger self-care routine with regular walks, exercise, meal-prepping, etc. However, it was definitely damaging to not be able to see friends and interact with my peers outside of my laptop screen. Over time, I also think my physical health deteriorated due to the naturally sedentary lifestyle created by the pandemic. I’m still trying to deal with these repercussions by focusing on a healthier diet and bringing back regular exercise.
How did your social surroundings change during the pandemic (was it more difficult to find friends)? How did you approach meeting new people under these new circumstances?: This was a huge issue for me during the pandemic. I have always been the sort of person to have a small circle of close friends and with these friends having spread out to different universities after high school, I felt like I was in completely new territory when starting university. I also didn’t really know anyone well in my program so I was starting fresh. This was something that made it all the more difficult because I wasn’t able to see anyone in-person. I decided that I needed to be more proactive and reached out to people in my classes and/or within my program through social media. It was very awkward reaching out to people I basically didn’t know at all but I can’t say I regret it. I met one of my closest friends that way and I believe that even one close friend after a ton of messages going nowhere means my efforts were fruitful. As hesitant as I was doing it then, I don’t regret it at all now!
How did university/highschool life change for you during the pandemic?: The pandemic forced me to be more introspective, social, take more initiative and understand my own interests. It was very weird being in-person this year for the first time in so long but it felt good to actually see people and my university buildings in real life. I feel like the pandemic transformed and minimized so much of my university experience, I am only starting to experience a lot of it now. Hopefully the rest of university will be a positive experience overall!