This year has been challenging for everyone, including our graduate students. What were some of the challenges faced by our graduate students during the COVID pandemic? What kind of mental health, physical, or logistic trials did they experience? Conversely, what were some of their positive, humorous, or encouraging experiences? In this series of blog posts, we would like to share their stories with you.

Isabella Bossom, M.A. Student

A Rocky Transition: Beginning Graduate Studies during the COVID-19 Pandemic

There is no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has affected students in all year standings. However, myself and many other students found ourselves in a particularly interesting position during this pandemic year: we graduated from undergraduate studies and began graduate studies. Graduating from my psychology undergraduate degree during the pandemic did not feel real without the same celebrations or in-person classes and I still do not feel that I have a degree to my name. Feeling that my degree was incomplete and unaccomplished made my transition into graduate studies tougher than I had initially imagined.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge as a new graduate student during the pandemic has been the limited possibilities for networking and communication. Despite the wonderful technology we are lucky to have at our disposal, it is hard to get to know peers and professors without having met most in person. We have been getting to know one another entirely online and under intense amounts of pandemic related pressure, which has made completing the graduate program additionally challenging. Under normal circumstances, graduate students usually band together to support one another through the ups and downs of statistics courses and starting thesis research. However, our cohort has not been able to support one another in the same way. We are a very isolated and independent group and I think that will make us all the more resilient as researchers in the future, but for the time being it is hard to make meaningful lasting connections with our peers.

A blessing and a curse of being a graduate student is the freedom to manage your own time and schedule with fewer classes and more independent research. My work life balance has suffered with working from home as my perfectionistic tendencies push me to work for an unhealthy number of hours each day. Additionally, I often allow myself to work long hours, despite knowing it is unhealthy, because as an extravert, all my hobbies and favourite activities are social and not permitted under lockdown restrictions. This year has opened my eyes to the importance of diversifying one’s hobbies and interests for better coping and well-being. As such, I have developed many helpful routines that help to make each day more positive and tolerable such as mindful stretching, daily walks with garbage clean-up to avoid boredom in repetitive actions, healthy eating and cooking, and a regular sleep schedule.

This year for me did not only come with mental and emotional challenges but also physical challenges. At the end of my third year of undergraduate studies, I severely broke my leg and had emergency surgery to repair it. However, the plates and screws holding my leg together were damaging my leg and I experienced chronic pain that limited me from basic activities like running or even walking at a quick pace. I was fortunate enough to receive surgery in November 2020 to remove the hardware, but the stress of surgery during the pandemic and the traumatic flashbacks to my original injury brought on additional emotional challenges. I am proud of myself for overcoming the challenges of the fall term but additional physical ailments in combination with the impact on mental health during the pandemic compounded the stress I was feeling. Although I am grateful for the opportunity to have received the surgery and that it was successful, it did take a toll on my well-being.

Overall, being a new graduate student during the pandemic has been one of the most challenging experiences I have ever endured but I also see the potential in it for personal growth and reflection. I hope that other graduate students have also been coping, being patient with themselves, and not allowing their self-esteem and self-worth to be impacted by the hardships of this year. We are all just doing our best to get through this difficult time and trying to get through it is enough. I have so much love and respect for all these students. We truly are a strong and resilient bunch. This too shall pass.