2020 is a year that definitely will be remembered. This year the world changed in an unforeseen way due to the COVID-19, and this pandemic had a huge impact on the way we study. A postgraduate degree is quite challenging in itself but can you imagine doing it during times like this? We are Fernanda, Suhaib, Tracy, and Ngoi. We are Link to Leeds ambassadors and in this blog, we will tell you about our experiences as postgraduate students in the 2019/20 academic year.
Fernanda Galván, MA International Communication, Mexico
As you know, this year was particularly difficult but also rewarding. I arrived in Leeds on September 2019 to begin my MA in International Communication, this was one of my biggest dreams that I was finally achieving. I was happy not only to start my academic program in one of the best UK universities but also for the whole experience that involves doing an MA abroad: travelling to another country, facing a new culture and meeting new friends. I was really enjoying my lectures, going to the library, going out with my friends, eating at the Union, and in general, I was loving my time at Leeds.
Everything was great until March 2020 when we started seeing on the news the stories about COVID-19. My family in Mexico started to worry for me and also for the travel restrictions. Due to this, we took the decision that I was going to travel back to Mexico. This was really hard for me, I had to suddenly change my life. I knew at this point that lectures will be online but I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to finish my MA. I was happy to be with my family in Mexico but sad because my MA dream was, in some way, put on hold. This unsure feeling changed when I saw that the University cared for us by providing many online resources for us.
The teachers and staff of the School of Media and Communication were always in touch, making sure we had good learning experiences even if these were remote. I struggled sometimes with lectures due to the time difference (I was quite sleepy in my 5am lectures) and also I really missed the library where I used to go to read and do my essays. In the end, I rearranged my room to make a nice workable space where I could study and write my dissertation. In some moments I struggled since I felt stressed and overwhelmed but at the end with the support and encouragement of my family, friends and the University, I managed to submit my dissertation and get a distinction mark! Now I’m hoping to travel back to Leeds, maybe for graduation and to visit my new friends.
Suhaib Arogundade, MSc Environmental Engineering and Project Management, Nigeria
Studying Environmental Engineering and Project Management at the University of Leeds was one of the best decisions I made last year as the programme was interesting and engaging. The knowledge gained throughout the programme was immense as my lecturers showed deep insights while also demonstrating the industry relevance of the modules taught. We did a field trip which I really liked and carried-out some laboratory practical’s as well.
However, when COVID-19 happened, all lectures were moved online and tutor support also became virtual. Lecturers and the university were supportive and understanding during the transition to online learning and there was minimal disruption to studies. One of such support was providing student remote access to relevant software needed for some modules which, under normal circumstances, can be used by students in the computer laboratory. Also, this period was when the dissertation was to really start and so many students had to either change the topic or focus of their research away from laboratory or fieldwork. This came with its own challenges but with the support of the School granting deadline extension and my supervisor, I was able to do an excellent dissertation.
Tracy Shan, PhD Translation Studies, China
In fact, the impact caused by COVID-19 on me, a PhD student, is greater than I had expected. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, I didn’t have as many lectures and seminars as the undergraduate and taught postgraduate students. However, I did need to attend the training sessions offered by the University, workshops offered by other universities and research summer schools and academic conferences all over the world. However, because of COVID-19, they all became online, cancelled or postponed. For example, I planned to apply for a research summer school in June this year in Belgium before the outbreak of COVID-19. However, I decided to not go after careful consideration and long discussions with my family- I also had to be extra careful as my immune system is weak and I have a minor heart disease. My cardiologist advised me to avoid crowds and stays indoors as much as possible. The summer school was highly recommended by the professors and my senior colleagues and it will be a great help to my doctoral thesis. However, I can attend it in the future of course, but there may not be enough time for me to make changes to my thesis. Therefore, I could never have made the most of it to some extent- but health comes first!
COVID-19 has had a negative impact on my daily life as well. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK in March this year, I have been working from my accommodation for more than half a year. I thought I should have been able to work on my research as usual since I usually studied in my accommodation instead of the library before the outbreak of COVID-19. But I’m completely wrong. As I have to avoid crowds, I have been kind of “stuck” in my accommodation during this period, which makes me get more anxious and irritable. This has reduced my learning efficiency. However, thanks to the help from my family and friends, supervisors, colleagues, and the members of the faculty and staff at Leeds, I managed to learn how to deal with the current situation to a great extent. So for now, I attend online training sessions, workshops and academic conferences relevant to my research online and have supervision meetings with my supervisors via Teams. For the social activities, our school moved the tea-and-talk activity online, so all PGRs of our school can communicate with each other every two weeks. Also, our school creates a chat group for PGRs on Teams so that we can chat with each other whenever and wherever we want.
In a word, this year has been especially difficult and challenging for me, but I also have learnt something that is important to both my life and research, such as emotional control and being flexible according to my physical and mental conditions. Now I feel that I’m able to take care of myself both physically and mentally and work on my research, although I know there will be some problems in the future but I can find a way out with the support of families, friends and the University.
Ngoi Hui Chien, Malaysia, MA English Literature
I will never forget the moment I received the offer letter from the University of Leeds. It was surreal to be admitted into a course which has never stopped fascinating me. From a pure science student in high school and matriculation college, I switched to TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at undergraduate level, which paved a way for me to undertake an MA in English Literature. Most of my course mates started studying the subject in either GCSE, A-level, or undergraduate degree. Therefore, it was challenging to keep up the pace in the beginning, but fortunately, the University and the School of English were always there to academically support us. I could access almost all the books and articles that I needed via the libraries. I also love how the School hosted extra seminars on different literary topics from time to time. Most importantly, my tutors were very passionate about their subjects and were willing to discuss the topics with their students after class. Through the extra reading materials introduced, I managed to expand my scope of knowledge, which prompted me to unhouse and interrogate the many concepts which I had always regarded as norms.
Apart from English literature, I also developed new research interests at Leeds. One salient example is western philosophy. Never had I thought that I would be studying philosophy, but the interdisciplinary research in Leeds encouraged me to venture into new fields of studies. The ways the syllabi were structured constantly encouraged students to transcend disciplinary constraints. It was an enriching experience to pursue my scholarly aspiration in an institution which has been transformed into a vibrant paradigm that gleefully embraces hybridity and diversity. My MA dissertation on trauma literature is one that inherits the wisdom of philosophers like Baruch Spinoza, Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour, and so on. I have also gained invaluable knowledge in various fields, for instance, history, environmentalism, psychoanalysis, anthropology, and so forth.
The exposure to knowledge from different academic silos thrust me to a universe of liminality, where I was always prompted to question and examine the way the world is constructed. The ability to contemplate life motivated me to explore more about the underlying principles that keep the machinery of the world functioning. Therefore, I have delivered papers at four different conferences (including one panel) to date, which has not included the one that will be held in November 2020 and another one that is still under consideration. The academic platforms opened my eyes to more scholarly discussions and exciting ideas. The new ways of perceiving the world impelled me to engage in creative writing too. One of my poems entitled ‘Of Return’ was published on the Journal of Postcolonial Writing. I have another poem which will be published on the December issue of SARE: Southeast Asian Review of English. I am also proud to say that one of my poems was longlisted in the 20–30 age category of the Hive Young Writers’ Competition 2020. That is my very first achievement in writing English literature on my CV with a long list of achievements in writing Chinese literature. The recognition that I received fuelled my motivation to do better in English literature, especially when I am someone who began studying English literature in a highly critical manner at MA level. It was indeed a fulfilling year for me—a year characterised by new explorations, enlightenment, and awakening to the immense possibilities in my inner universe.
Part of the Alumni Room in the School of English. One of the prominent alumni of the School is Wole Soyinka—the first African to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.
In conclusion, studying for a postgraduate degree will be an invaluable asset for you, be it in career progression or self-enhancement. Being a Russell Group University in the UK, the University of Leeds offers a wide range of master’s and research courses. Where there is a will, there is a way. The University welcomes students from different backgrounds, the most important factors here are your potential and passion. We look forward for you to experience Leeds in your own way too!