Monday, September 28th, 2020...2:12 pm

My Experience Starting Grad School During a Pandemic (And it’s Not All That Bad)

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By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

I’m not sure if this problem is particular to me, but my summer was full of Grad school dread. Rather than feel proud that I had gotten into Grad school, or excited about starting my program, I was fixated upon the fact that my experience was going to be very different from that of previous years. To make matter worse, over the summer everyone I came across—neighbours, extended family, even my dentist—would ask me what I was doing in the fall, and once I told them about grad school, the first thing they would ask is “Will it be online?”

When I would awkwardly mumble that it would be, they would reply sympathetically, “Oh, that’s too bad” or “Oh what a shame.”

And I know this wasn’t their intention, but each time this happened (and it happened a lot) I felt more and more like a sham. Until eventually, I was convinced that since I wasn’t getting a “normal” graduate experience, I was completing some sort of fake degree. In truth, this feeling of being a graduate-imposter, despite the fact that the situation is completely out of my control, upset me so much that I considered dropping out.

Cartoon drawing of a girl looking at her laptop that has a shadow of a monster behind it

And it’s not the fault of my neighbours, or my very nice dentist, that I felt this way. For on the flip side, when my friends would try to be positive about the situation I would feel like they were lying to me. The fact was, I was upset that my Graduate experience would not be the one I had pictured, and no one could change my mind. I felt as though the work and the hours I had put into my application had been a waste, and I worried that my degree would be too.

Now that the year has finally started, however, this big shadowy Grad school monster I had pictured has deflated. Of course, my experience is not the same as it has been in years past, but what I’ve also learned is that graduate school centers much more around self-directed learning than I had realized. So while I would have liked to go down to campus every day, I am still doing the same work, and learning the same material, that I would have been otherwise. This realization helped me to no longer feel as though my degree is somehow lesser than those acquired in the years before me; if anything, it’s more difficult, for grad students this year have to do the same work in a new and frankly scary way.

Photo of a pile of books
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

All this being said, I want to recognize that I am in a very privileged position to be going to graduate school in the first place, and to have a safe place to live and to study, albeit remotely.

But I wanted to write this post because in one of my seminars, the Professor gave students the space to voice their concerns about the upcoming year. Everyone spoke very openly and shared their worries about learning remotely, learning from another country, and not meeting a single one of their peers or professors in person. Hearing that other grad students have many of the same anxieties made me feel a lot better, so I thought I’d share my feelings with you.

So if you have been feeling this way, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and the work that you’re putting into your graduate degree, whether it be in the research or professional stream, a masters or PhD, is real, valuable and quite frankly very, very impressive.

If you also find sharing your experiences as a grad student helpful, or if you enjoy listening to others share theirs, Gradlife hosts tons of Grad Connections where grad students can come together and discuss a variety of topics particular to our experiences. You can check out, and register, for our upcoming events on CLNx:

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