4 Tips on Navigating Graduate School During the Pandemic

Jun 17, 2021

By Angell Kim

One of the unique skills that we learn as humans is to adapt to our environment. However, adaptation is not something that comes automatically. It requires change on our part and being proactive to solving problems.

The pandemic forced us to experience a new lifestyle from working or studying from home, attending graduation and baby showers online, to making temporary sacrifices in doing the things we love to do or traveling to new places. These changes encouraged us to gradually adjust our behavior and approaches. This transformation impacted everyone. It also impacted students of all grades and levels. 

There are students who had to transition to virtual learning due to the pandemic. There are students who entered their first years, like me, when the transition to solely virtual learning was happening. There are also students who are planning to attend graduate school and don’t know what to expect.

Whether you are considering graduate school or higher learning, beginning your studies, or continuing to adapt to graduate school in the time of COVID-19, here are some tips to guide you in graduate school during this transformative time.

1. Find Resources to Shape Your Graduate School Experience

Graduate school will not guide you by your hand, so it is up to you to shape your experience. Before the semester begins, search for the new school year’s orientation events or any school-related event. Your university is adapting just as you are, and with those adaptations come different ways of offering the university experience. These can be orientations and events that are virtual.

Choose the orientations that interest you or that might be helpful. These can range from library resources, student council, university organizations, transportation guides, and more. Within these resources, you’d be surprised how many freebies and free resources you can get! Learning about where you can get what resources when and how can facilitate your time and experience in graduate school. Some specific examples I can share with you about the University of Arizona are that the library lends tons of technological tools such as laptops, cameras, tripods, etc.; the student council seems to always be giving away free swag; there are many university organizations to meet new people who share the same hobbies; and despite the pandemic and restrictions, organizations have made amazing efforts to adapt to continue serving students. Another cool fact about my university is that there is a bicycle renting service! As we see things opening up gradually, finding out what buildings are open to study and meet with peers safely will be fun ways to get to your university in-person. Find out what your university offers and take full advantage of it. 

2. Follow Your University’s Social Media

Social media is a tool to get in the know of things. You might not be a social media person, and that’s okay, because you could follow the university’s email newsletters of different departments or organizations. However, following your university’s social media accounts can keep you in the loop of the latest events happening, the freebies being given, the opportunities granted, and other news that you may find interesting and pertinent to you. Sometimes, universities offer so many things that you may not even know about. This is where social media can be a positive advantage to you. Although most things may be online, universities are adapting and trying to find creative ways to deliver student experiences such as a drive-in movie, giving away student gear, gradually opening up student facilities such as the gym and restaurants, and gifting holiday meals. These are real examples from my university, so find out what yours has by following social media to see those announcements.

3. Get to Know One Person or More in Your Classes

When school starts, you would expect to feel that butterfly feeling of seeing and meeting new people in-person, but since the status of universities opening completely is not certain yet, make the humble goal of getting to know one person in each of your class. After completing a year of online learning, I can assure you that I needed help and collaboration from my peers. Knowing at least one person and befriending them can really make a difference in your learning experience. 

Your professors will probably ask everyone to introduce yourselves in the first class, but going the extra mile of messaging or emailing a person after class to break the ice can be the first step in getting to know that person more. Be the first to reach out to another colleague or two to get acquainted and build relationships. Get past the awkwardness during the pandemic has been difficult, but let’s face it, this is probably the new “pandemic” way to make friends. It’s about adapting!

As the school year goes on, if you find yourself struggling or overwhelmed, I assure you, you are not the only one. This is where study buddies and peers can keep you accountable and be more efficient in tasks. In the real world, working with others and in groups will most likely be big components of your careers and being able to navigate and manage that at the university level will equip you to be best prepared for the real world.

4. Make the Initiative and Schedule Office Hours Albeit Virtual

Just as you made the initiative to get to know a peer or two in your classes, it is equally important to get acquainted with your professors outside of class. Sometimes online laziness will get in the way of making the first move to make an appointment with your professors, but make the time to carve out 15 minutes to meet with your professors at the beginning of classes and not when you desperately need help on a final assignment. Building relationships at the beginning can make a good first, although virtual, impression. This act just makes future interactions with your professors less awkward! Your professors are also still in the adapting phase of teaching online, and the personal interaction of meeting you outside of class will be something both you and the professor will greatly appreciate. 

In conclusion…

Being in graduate school will require a lot of proactivity. 

If you are a continuing student, you’ve already overcome the hardest part of education during the pandemic, but maybe you’ll need some energy and rejuvenation for your next year or years, but remember, schools may offer hybrid or in-person classes gradually. Be on the lookout! The virtual experience cannot completely replace the in-person experience, but if you have one year under your belt of online learning, re-adjusting back to what school was like before will be the motivation you may need to graduate!

If you’re unsure of going to graduate school because it will be virtual, remember, schools are opening up and being mindful of that should inspire you to get started and apply to graduate school!

Angell Kim graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Global Studies and a Minor in Latin American Studies. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Colombia (2016-2018), a 2020 Donald M. Payne International Development Fellow, and is a 2020 Paul D. Coverdell Fellow and MPA student at the University of Arizona.

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