Blog Post by ELP Student Nina Perry (Chemical Engineering | Class of 2021) 

Unforeseen Circumstances

The drastic change from working in an academic setting to working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic had a tremendous impact on my motivation and well-being. Initially, the separation from friends and extended family made me miserable, but I didn’t realize how much this feeling of sorrowfulness would increase. Over the course of March and April, I began receiving notices from companies I was hoping to intern at: many were cancelling their summer programs. I was maintaining some semblance of hope that the internships I already had been accepted to would not be cancelled. Of course, it was only a matter of time before they were called off as well. 

With the understanding that internships can be crucial for post-graduation success, I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of panic. At the same time, my lack of experience with distance learning and my inability to stay productive at home resulted in an enormous decline in my motivation, thereby also affecting my academic grades.

Working on it

A bittersweet feeling I had at the time was learning that other students were going through similar, if not worse hardships. While it was somewhat of a relief to hear that this was a shared experience, I could not help but feel concerned about my prospects for the summer as well as the turnout of my winter semester. Fortunately, support I received from the mentors through the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program, friends, and family all allowed me to finalize a summer internship, as well as complete the rest of my winter classes. Even though this was a major milestone, I still didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment that I otherwise would have if the pandemic had not occurred. I realized that it was the unexpected changes due to that of the pandemic that highlighted how ineffective my existing habits were. Furthermore, this made me realize that I had allowed myself to fall into a pattern of complacency because of these existing study and lifestyle practices.

Unintended consequence of the pandemic: my cat, Bruce, trying to distract me while working.

Over the course of the summer, I began changing some of the habits that I found were negatively influencing my productivity and overall well-being. I consciously made an effort to identify and change those thoughts and behaviors.

Here are some of the strategies that I found most successful – 

Setting smaller goals:

I realized that a decrease in my motivation was due in part to the “large” goals I had set for myself: goals that I could have achieved if I had the same access to resources and tools pre-COVID. These larger goals seemed almost unreachable because of the distance and restrictions caused by the pandemic. Additionally, being at home negatively impacted my productivity due to the increase of surrounding distractions. Because of this, I found that breaking my goals down into smaller and more manageable pieces made them more reachable. I suggest making goals as specific as possible and following the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-based) method. In doing so, goals will be easier to achieve.

Investing in hobbies and taking time to relax:

A break from work: a fun drive with my sister.

It is important to dedicate some time to take a break from work and studies. The unintended side effect of working from home was a lot of wanted and unwanted distractions. While it seems like working from home can be beneficial because it allows one to fully invest in their work, it can also be hard to separate work from personal life. I started taking 10-15 minute breaks every two hours throughout the day as well as made time to relax and pursue my hobbies.

Creating an environment conducive to learning:

Over the course of the spring and summer, I was constantly surrounded by distractions, both wanted and unwanted. To combat this, I changed my workspace. Before, I would study a lot in my bedroom. Studies suggest that this can negatively affect your sleeping habits. Instead, I set up a formal study area in a separate part of my house, and removed all nearby distractions. Switching up your work space from time to time was also very beneficial for me; studies suggest it helps with memory retention and, in general, moving somewhere else made me feel like I wasn’t always chained to my desk. 

Maintaining my connections:

While it was difficult to expand my professional network during the pandemic, I stayed connected with alliances I already had. In general, connections might offer opportunities that might not be possible if one doesn’t know that person. Especially going into the new school year, opportunities and internships are still uncertain, so keeping in touch with existing contacts was a priority for me.

Going Forward

Every crisis brings about challenges and setbacks. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted me in a way that I would never have anticipated. Looking back, I realize how much I valued my experience and it’s importance in my growth as a student and person. I wish I had been more forgiving of myself as I reflect on the winter semester as I now learned how crucial it is to celebrate small milestones; in these times, it can be as much of a reward as achieving your biggest goals. I feel compelled to share my journey because I believe that it is during trying times that we learn the most valuable life lessons. If nothing else, I hope my experience helps others understand that during these kinds of adversities, they are not alone.

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