Tips to make your online academic life fruitful when it turns out to be nothing like you wanted it to be.
Struggling to make sense of how your academic life has caught fire?
You are definitely not alone. The pandemic has not only taken away crucial years of our education and reduced us all to online degrees, but has also seriously hit our aspirations and productivity. The lack of resources doesn't make it any easier either. With many universities not allowing access to their digital libraries (or not having a digital library), and only giving Shibboleth/ Open Athens access on campus server, many in academics are rendered handicapped by serious lack of resources.
Some of us have never seen our campus.
Many of us have no mentors in this university, no professor we know enough.
Our TAs have graduated already, or are working on other projects now.
Or, the winner - you have no clue about your course content. Everything looks alien, confusing and downright intimidating.
It is easy to feel rudderless and lost in this situation, especially since we are not just sitting at home, but actively dealing with the pandemic and its outfall.
So how can you focus on academics when it feels like a full blown quarter-life crisis?
Accept that it is not perfect
Sometimes, accepting and making peace with your disappointment and frustrations can bring about solutions that weren't obvious before. Yes, this isn't how it was supposed to be.
You didn't sign up to learn like this - all alone. You miss your friends. Heck, you even miss the library.
But constantly fighting this disappointment is going to sour whatever positive experiences online learning can give (which are few, so don't waste them!)
Take a break
Actively do nothing.
Don't divert your boredom and/or panic to a new project immediately.
Listen to music. Hum. Sing.
Take some time out and write about what is bothering, or say it out loud to yourself. Focus on what brings you joy, not yet another project you are not passionate about.
A/N- If it is the lack of social connections, actively try to reach out to some friends. If you are in a new school, make the effort of texting a few classmates, and see how that goes. Yes, it is intimidating, and laborious - but if it can lead to a solution to your immediate issues - why not?
Dehydration makes you lose focus. It's proven. Sit in class with a bottle of water and sip often.
Ditch excess coffee, don't skip meals, and have an adequate amount of water.
Get off social media
It is so easy to get lost in a never ending loop of Facebook - LinkedIn - Instagram where everyone's life is perfect, everyone has ten certifications, an amazing life and a perfect body, and you are holed up in your room listening to lectures that increasingly sound like white noise.
It is incredibly easy to fall into this rabbit hole of surfing social media while listening to lectures - but please don't. Try to pay attention in class so you don't have to revise from scratch before exams.
Reach out to your Professors and TAs
This time is incredibly hard on everyone here, especially on teachers. Do you think they enjoy talking to blank screens, and reading fifty lack luster essays?
University gives you the chance to make some incredible connections with professors and TAs and many of them become our mentors too. But for that to happen, you need to actively reach out to them. Ask questions, send emails. Show your interest, or your doubts.
They are here to help and teach you. Most good educators will help. And if they don't, most content is on YouTube anyway. Make good use of the internet!
Recognize your imposter syndrome
It is incredibly easy in today's loud and fast paced, social media influenced world that we aren't good enough. Nothing we do is as fancy as that distant contact who keeps popping on your feed, and there is always some 18 year old out there doing things you didn't think was possible without a degree. It is also incredibly easy to feel disillusioned and question what are you even doing, and if this is worth it.
The answer is simple - it is worth it if you make it worth it.
Many of us have the mindset of 'letting your work/grades speak for themselves'. The truth is, it often is not. In this world full of marketing and image building, just having sheer skills or potential simply isn't enough. That's why we make a portfolio, right? Show our graphic and design skills?
If you can, take a step back and see what your folio or your image looks like. Most of the time, the potential is there, and so are the core skills. Understand that you are your biggest ally, and learning is your top skill. You deserve to be where you are.
We do things to prove to others that we are worth it. If you'd like, take up projects by which you can demonstrate to yourself, first and foremost that you do have the skills and you are capable. Experiment with coding, check out the basics of Rhino or Illustrator - do things that intimidate you, and actively work against your fear of failing.
Don't let yourself be the reason why you can't be the person you want to be.
Take up an online course on a topic that can aid your academics (or maybe something you are just curious about)
Everything is not about academics.
Sometimes too much of the same can only be a burden. Explore multiple courses everywhere. There are many free tutorials on multiple softwares on YouTube as well. It is not about getting a certificate, but learning a new skill, and re-igniting the curiosity within you.
I know what you're thinking - online class to counter online class?
Yes. But this time, without the pressure.
We as humans enjoy learning. Pressurizing ourselves because of grades, loans and debts and other things often takes away the joy.
Seriously - Find a course or topic you would like to know about, and take up a short course, or even Google about it. Just follow through with what catches and keeps your attention.
Explore many options
Maybe what eventually works for you isn't in this list. Many of us can't go for strolls and walks in the lockdown. Do go if you can.
Cycle if you have a cycle.
Bust out your paints from first year and make a shitty painting. It's okay if its bad - first tries are rarely perfect.
All that matters is that you truly enjoy the process of whatever you use to unwind - be it journaling, or running, or cooking, or singing, or blogging your opinions.
Online classes suck.
Meetings happen throughout the day, and sometimes well into the night. Group projects are painful. You feel like everything is a waste of time. You're at home where you may not have the best support system. Maybe you are juggling an online job as well.
This pandemic has truly taught us that life is precious and mental strength and discipline will help bring in some much needed respite to this oddly-busy-yet-blank time of our lives.
However, there is one small advantage you can use for your benefit - that whatever free time you manage to carve out, is truly yours to enjoy. Do not feel guilty about taking some time out for yourself and actively pursuing interests you let go years ago. Find what brings you peace, and it will help you incredibly in these tough months.
A/N - The author is currently a student as well, not a qualified mental health professional. If you feel extremely burdened or simple meditation and self-introspection is not working, the author encourages you to reach out to a qualified mental health professional for proper guidance and therapy. Design education is mentally taxing, and there is no shame in asking for help.