Double degree

Navigating an internship, study and what it’s like to graduate during a global pandemic.

“You’ve got the job, when can you start?” are the words I heard through the phone as I stood in the isle of a bullet train on the way to Hakuba in February 2019. I suddenly had 4 weeks to get back to Australia and move my life to Sydney.

Everyone is always encouraging you to make the most of every opportunity and put yourself out there while at university, so when I had the opportunity to complete an internship at a global company, I took it.

With just a few units left in my Bachelor of Business and Fine Arts, it was a gamble to move halfway across the country, but QUT is all about ‘real world experiences’ right? 

Unable to complete my units remotely, I had to unroll from my classes just before the census date. After weeks of researching alternative options, cross-institutional study and extended leaves of absence, I thought I may never be able to finish my degree without giving up the life and career I was starting to build in Australia’s biggest city. 

Girl standing in front of the Sydney harbour

Of all the things that could have happened, I did not think it would be a global pandemic that would give me the chance to be the first in my family to graduate from university. 

COVID-19 is transforming the way that we learn, teach and work. 

The transition to a complete online experience during Semester 1, 2020 with online classes and exams, meant I could join my fellow students again through ‘flexible study.’

In my world, this meant I could complete everything from my bedroom…a 1000km away. I could be in a group project with someone from Alice Springs, my tutor could host virtual classes from his home in Toowoomba where he was also caring for his newborn child, and I could still complete my full-time internship with part-time study, whenever and wherever I wanted. 

With online resources like Blackboard, Zoom and Discord, I was using new and existing tools in ways I hadn’t before – encouraged by teachers to engage with other students, maximise my additional time to learn and study (goodbye commuting!) and get more consistent, dynamic feedback. Of course I miss the coffee catch-ups, the co-curricular activities and the face to face contact, but there is something empowering about taking control of your studies to learn when and where you want to learn, all the while getting invaluable undergrad career experience. Many student societies are now hosting ‘virtual’ events like AMPed or QUT Entrepreneurship. 

Overall, I felt an increase in communication between students, tutors and the university where everyone had each other’s back during this adjustment period. There’s also the constant updates from QUT on the situation and our progress forward.

Does this concept of ‘flexible study’ make opportunities for work experience while studying more accessible? 

My experience has made me consider all the positive benefits that other students can capitalise on such as the ability to embrace a true work/study/life balance where with ‘flexible’ study options to allow time to work or intern somewhere to gain career experience. Time away from commuting, more access to resources, and more time to build skills, complete work experience (anywhere!) gives more people the chance to engage with tertiary study at Australia’s best universities. 

There’s also other aspects of life that are changing. People are taking the time to go outdoors, be more active and enjoy the positive psychological and physiological effects this activity can have for us! I’ve never seen so many people walking around with their AirPods in on zoom calls or sitting in a park on their laptops. There are so many ways to change up your study habits and more opportunities to de-stress by removing yourself from your workspace for just a little bit of time. 

Three people jumping in the air

Finding new ways to celebrate

It feels very strange to have waited so long for a graduation ceremony that may never happen in person.  It’s hard to know when the next time we can meet in a room with hundreds of our classmates, teachers and friends again. I want to enjoy this moment of graduating university and celebrate the successes in the face of adversity, but it’s hard not to just go about your (new) normal life and forget about these achievements.

Anti-climatic is one word for it, but I now prefer to think of it as a way to be connected to students, not just from your university, but from across the globe who are all going through the same bizarre experience. It’s hard not see the overwhelming support in the media, or even Michelle Obama, for all the students graduating in 2020. “You’ve got this,” “you made it,” and “if you can make it through this year…” plastered across the internet. In a way, it makes me feel as if through the challenges and obstacles of virtual school, we may be coming out of this experience stronger than any graduating class before us.

With a graduation certificate in the mail, rather than in the your hands at a graduation ceremony, it’s time to think of new ways to celebrate and more importantly, be connected to the academic community and other students until we can join graduation ceremonies in the future. I watched students in the US login to “virtual proms”, graduation ceremonies and celebrity commencement speeches. It might be the first time that there are resources being shared for everyone to enjoy!

A girl in graduation gap and a bunch of flowers

Whether you have your own socially distant graduation ceremony with your close family and friends, do a DIY graduation photoshoot with a cape and gown in your backyard, or even have a virtual graduation party with all of your classmates, we can still celebrate all of our successes in the face of adversity.

Imagine telling your kids that YOU graduated in the middle of a global pandemic? Now that’s a story I can’t wait to tell…

Congratulations to the graduates of 2020 and the students who continue to preserve during this unprecedented time. 

Mackenzie

Bachelor of Business (Marketing) / Bachelor of Fine Arts (Interactive & Visual Design)

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