The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on students, from courses being moved online to opportunities being cancelled. This year has forced all of us to pivot, adapt, and just get used to new situations and schedules. For example, many undergraduates like myself, are sitting at home attending ‘Zoom University’ from another time zone. For the past year, I have had to attend class in the evenings and make plans to fill up the non-class time during the day. I am not along in this.
An Instagram poll from the Global Covid Study found that:
- 67% of participants (full-time students) took part in an internship/part-time opportunity during the pandemic;
- 63% of the participants committed to two or more internships; and
- 80% of the participants that haven’t yet had an internship would like to take part in one.
When asked why undergraduates decided to take up internships during this time, they said:
“I would like to expand my learning further through actual practices and being able to support myself financially. Also, I spend so much time at home, I feel somewhat more pressurised to find something else to do other than studying.” – UCL, Year 2, BSc Psychology with Education student
The fact of the matter is that students are located across different countries and time zones. From my experience, an 8-hour difference between China and the UK has impacted my ability to study. Studying in the evenings from 6PM to 12AM, is the equivalent of ‘night shift’ for students. For other students in Asia enrolled in U.S. colleges, they would have their lectures from midnight until 6AM in the morning. The time zone difference poses considerable challenges to student’s academic progress. For example, collaboration on group work with members in other time zones leads to sleep disturbance and disrupted circadian rhythms that in turn could reduce productivity and mental health.
During the day, another concern is raised: “What should we do?”. According to psychological research, a lack of structure and routine can exacerbate feelings of distress and lead us to focus more on the current stressors from the pandemic. It has been found that a structured routine can instil a sense of predictability, reduce levels of fear and stress, and better restore the sense of normalcy. Thus, one reason why so many students have gotten internships could be that it helps us to cope with the fear and uncertainty surrounding this pandemic. Students may, therefore, feel the urge to re-establish their own routine and to adapt to the current changes in the environment. As one student said:
“Covid has definitely taught me that unexpected events could come any time in the future that we haven’t fully prepped for.” – USC, Year 1, BS Computer Science student
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated undergraduates’ worries about the future and many have grown accustomed to the constant changes and unpredictability of the pandemic. But this is not all bad. Feelings of uncertainty and stress seem to have motivated students to work harder in order to feel better prepared for the future.
Students have also expressed concerns about being unable to manage their time properly with both academic and internship responsibilities – despite being motivated to gain new skills during an internship to increase employability. Thus, young people today are perhaps experiencing more stress than pre-COVID-19 times.
While this post provides a glimpse of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted student’s motivations towards finding an internship and part-time job, we have also highlighted the added stress that comes with this new responsibility. So, should we be engaging in internships or not during a global pandemic?
Whatever the decision, the psychology student in me believes it is just as important to remind my fellow peers – especially those of other disciplines – to recognise when they need to take some time to rest in order to avoid emotional exhaustion and burnout. As exam term looms, students should be reminded to reach out for help via the appropriate university mental health support services, or try accessing some of our study resources page and blogs on tips and techniques for better sleep and mindfulness practices. Staying connected with friends and community are also important.
Some universities have also made reasonable adjustments to learning during COVID-19. For instance, UCL has provided creative ways of delivering lecture content through a hybrid learning model of asynchronous (e.g., pre-recorded lectures) and synchronous sessions (e.g., live sessions). To alleviate student’s stress in assessments, a ‘no detriment’ policy was introduced. Wellbeing events and counselling services have also been easily accessible for students who may need help in reducing psychological burden during the pandemic. These ways of supporting students and understanding that students under different circumstances will require different levels of support should be encouraged across universities.