COVID and Realisations – from the perspective of a University Student:

How COVID has impacted my university experience and why I decided to do virtual work placements

Since the start of the pandemic, students have been constantly overlooked. With lectures going online (despite no reduction in course fees), and the cost of student halls mounting up, we’ll still have the same crippling debt as our student counterparts from five years ago. The last 18 months has led to a big change in how we live, interact, and view the workplace, for better and for worse.

In March last year there was an unexpected shift when COVID hit, affecting university life and the workplace in equal measure. The change really hit me when I got an email saying that the year would be conducted through ‘blended learning’. However, there were no face-to-face interactions whatsoever and I only went into university a grand total of three times. The class community became very different, everyone became more independent, and people didn’t interact as they did previously. The whole idea of work and university had transformed.

I personally have found it hard to stay motivated with the asynchronous nature of pre-recorded online lectures, akin to a YouTube video because of the lack of interaction with tutors. It would often take tutors days to respond to emails (through no fault of their own) which was frustrating and left me feeling isolated. And according to various studies I am not alone in this: one study in particular claiming that 21% of adults experienced some sort of depression in early 2021, more than double what was recorded before the pandemic.

Aware that I needed to find a placement for my second year, I decided that this would be an opportune moment to do so, especially as the industry has moved almost wholesale online. The future is looking more digital so having experience in it now is beneficial, whether it continues indefinitely or not. We are all rethinking our relationships with technology, and as a 20-year-old I value the communication tools we have to connect with and talk to new people. And as it happens, it was through these communication methods (LinkedIn specifically), that I landed myself a weeklong placement at Intent Health. Ironically, I have done far more work during my time working here and had more meaningful conversations than I probably would have done in person!

Workplaces are now more inclined to give those completing internships and work experience real tasks rather than being a runner making tea and coffee, which is what I was prepared for following conversations with teachers and family members. Some of my friends on my course were unable to secure a placement but I knew, whatever it took, that I would rather do one than write another 2000-word assignment. During my time at Intent, I have written articles (including this one), had 1to1 meetings with members of the team and been able to ask for advice and guidance. All from the comfort of my own home.

I don’t feel as watched over as I may have in an office. I’m able to take things in and understand at my pace. I’ve not wasted time travelling into work. However, many people are finding it harder to separate their work and leisure space, especially those who work from their bedroom.

Within the workplace there is a lot more room for communication in the team and a good bond with work colleagues is essential. Work experience from home has a better sense of achievement when you have completed a good piece of work as there is direct feedback and advice from the people around you. Seeing my work published online is very rewarding as is meeting people and having conversations with comms professionals.

As I embark on my final year of university, I aim to make better connections with my lecturers as I now realise the importance of asking questions and gaining regular feedback. Overall, the past few months has been good for the workplace as everyone has something in common, informing the way we connect with each other and the relationships we build.

Ella is a Public Relations student at the University of The Arts London (UAL). In her spare time, she is deputy features editor and social media manager of Link Magazine, a student-led magazine for UAL student. Ella joined us for work experience for one week back in July 2021.