This year has been extremely uncertain for all of us, particularly when it comes to work and university. Before I started my course, I struggled to decide whether or not to go ahead with my Masters degree at UCL this year as I knew that I probably wouldn’t spend much time on campus. UCL and this Masters degree has been a dream of mine for years now and while it was a really difficult decision to make, I ultimately decided to bite the bullet and go ahead with whatever blend of learning we were given this year.
Except from a weekly journal club during first semester and in the lead up to Christmas, my degree this year has ended up being taught almost entirely online. Queen Square really have made a huge effort to give us the best learning experience possible and I feel very lucky to have had a course and institute that is so determined to make the most of an unfortunate situation, but there is only so much that can be done within certain limitations due to the pandemic. Our lectures have been online in different formats – some were live, others were pre-recorded and then a Q&A session followed in which we could answer questions about the content, and some were almost tutorial-like with handouts and questions given to us to then work through.
One of the things that I think Queen Square and our lecturers did really well was encourage student involvement and participation despite having to learn through Zoom and Microsoft Teams. I’ve heard complaints from students at other universities and within other departments about how each degree has handled the current online learning situation, but in comparison, considering the circumstances, I actually think my course was still delivered quite well. There are positives and negatives to take from the situation and I thought I would mention a few.
To be clear, online learning during a pandemic has been difficult in terms of loneliness and struggling to focus with so much going on in the world, but I am very privileged to have a safe, peaceful environment to study from and the technology to do so. Others are not this lucky and I have so much respect for those who made it through this year under very different circumstances. These are my take-home thoughts and experiences coming out of the pandemic and I know others may not relate to this but I hope that they are helpful in some way.
Learning from my bedroom has been tough, and at first I really struggled with being stuck within the four walls rather than getting out to lectures and seeing my peers, but I am so glad that I have developed the self-discipline and motivation to complete this degree and learn to work from home. During my undergraduate degree, I was constantly found in the library or the student union. I couldn’t work from my bedroom and I had to separate my work and living space. Learning to work from home is something I honestly never thought I was capable of but I think it’s going to be a great skill going forward and something I can now take out of the pandemic.
I also enjoyed the aspect of being much more independent in my learning. We had much more control over time and when we wanted to learn. I liked being able to structure my own time and work when it suited me rather than having to run between lecture halls at specific times. I was able to fit in a quick workout while the gym was quiet and choose to watch my lectures at a time that suited me more. I did miss the routine that a strict timetable gave me and I did find that online lectures became a bit lonely if they were constantly watched in my bedroom by myself, but I did like the new found freedom in my day that this format gave me.
— Morgan Daniel (@MorganDaniel99) May 13, 2021
I gained a lot of insight into how I learn best after studying from home for a year. I found that study techniques I had been using for years weren’t best suited to me anymore and that having lecture recordings available and being able to revise the content on demand and multiple times if necessary was really useful. I enjoyed being able to delve deep into a lecture and the content and then being given the opportunity to ask the lecturer any questions I might have. I was always too nervous to ask questions in a lecture in person, regardless of how friendly my lecturers may have been, but the online format and purpose built Q&A sessions made me much more comfortable doing so. I learned so much more and was more engaged in my learning than I had been previously. This is where I believe the structure that Queen Square took and our lecturers embraced was really a bit of a game changer. It was a style of learning that I believe may suit a lot of people and going forward, something I hope they try to implement throughout in-person classes.
There are obviously major downsides to online learning. I have only met a few of my peers a handful of times and I miss the social aspect of university. We have missed out on the networking opportunities that come with in person events, no matter how casual, and for many students, online learning has made research projects more difficult or much more limited. Many of us are disappointed to have missed out on the opportunity to gain practical skills and experience that is needed in our fields. Unfortunately, the pandemic hasn’t halted the need for practical skills within many fields of research so a lot of graduates this year do feel extremely disadvantaged going into the job market. This is why I think it’s important that we take the skills that we have learned and the resilience that we have developed and use that to our advantage when taking our next steps.
We have successfully navigated our way through over a year of a terrifying pandemic, countless lockdowns, and distressing news on a daily basis. We have created excellent pieces of coursework and research from our bedrooms and kitchen tables and we have coped with countless distractions and the claustrophobic feeling that weighed down on most of us throughout so much of the past year. Everything that we have coped with and the way we have adapted to still produce great work is a sign of our resilience and determination and this really does help to ready us for whatever future we might be striving for. I miss in-person learning, but I’m going to take what I can from online learning and make the most of this situation, and I’m glad that I can do so with the support and guidance from the staff at Queen Square.
If you’re interested in hearing more about my experiences while studying for my MSc at UCL, take a look at some of my other blogs – https://www.dementiaresearcher.nihr.ac.uk/tag/morgan-msc-story/
Thanks for listening,
Morgan Daniel is an MSc Student at University College London, studying the along the ‘Dementia: Causes, Treatments and Research (Neuroscience)’ track, Originally from Loch Lomond, Morgan completed her BSc in Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow in 2019, and she hates all forms of potato! Morgan is sharing her MSc journey during 2020 / 2021 with NIHR Dementia Researcher.