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Surviving final year in a global pandemic

Maeve in Madrid

In the summer of last year, I was adjusting to life in a new city having just started an Erasmus work placement in Madrid. I was enjoying my new independence, tapas, and post-work sunbathing. By March of 2020, a global pandemic had well and truly made itself known throughout Spain, and my international experience, like so many other things, came to an abrupt end.

Suddenly, I was back living at home, completing my final year online and coming to terms with the pending post-graduation panic. It was all a far cry from the pre-pandemic blissful ignorance I was enjoying this time last year. 

Final year is stressful at the best of times, with countless deadlines, exams, job applications and big decisions. Combine that with a switch to online classes and a global pandemic looming large in the backdrop, and it’s a recipe for final year fear.

Learning to adjust

The switch to online learning was something I, like many others, found very daunting.  Microsoft Teams classes and breakout rooms were not how I had imagined my final year of university to be, but I am learning to embrace the positives. For starters, I love avoiding early winter morning commutes to 9am classes. Moreover, I’m recognising that the skills I’ve gained by being thrown into the deep end of online working will be highly valued amongst future employers. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, the need for virtual work skills is no longer limited to telecommuters and global teams; it now extends to most office work. The virtual skills I’ve developed through being immersed into the world of online learning are truly indispensable and highly valuable to employers, so I’ll remember to show them off in my next interview. 

Maeve in Madrid

Looking to the future

And as I begin to look at interviews and how my post-university career path will begin to take shape, I’m aware that my comfortable student bubble is about to burst and real adulthood and responsibilities are looming. 

‘What are your plans after university?’ is a question that rings throughout final year, and while some have a five-year career plan up their sleeve, I count myself among the many who haven’t figured out what I’m doing at the weekend, never mind next year. 

If you’re in a similar situation, and are finding your future really daunting, fear not. Here are some tips that have helped me: 

  1. Don’t get caught up on what your friends are doing. It’s easy to feel that just because everyone you know is applying for Big 4 grad schemes, you should too. It’s important to think about what’s best for you, and understand what you really want. Queen’s Careers Service is on hand to help support you in deciding what to do next. You can book a 1-1 appointment with a Careers Consultant to discuss any aspect of your career management or even receive feedback on your CV/LinkedIn profile. 

Book an appointment in MyFuture

  1. Explore your options! Research, research, research. Graduate jobs are not the only option. Think about postgraduate study – maybe a Master’s programme will be the next step for you? Or, with vaccine hope on the horizon and a slow shift back to normality looking increasingly promising, why not think about working, studying or volunteering abroad? Queen’s Global Opportunities Team can advise you about programmes available. You can arrange a virtual appointment with one of the team to chat about the travel options available to you through MyFuture.

Search Global Opportunities

  1. Leverage the new skills you’ve developed. Although this year has not been the most ideal in terms of academic experience, think about the skills you have developed through its challenges. Not only will employers love those new virtual working skills, but also the adaptability gained by facing a having to suddenly adapt to online classes, resilience gained by facing and persevering through your studies during a very difficult period, and undoubtedly problem-solving in overcoming various issues and problems brought about by the challenges of this year. Think about how to showcase this new skillset, considering how this relates to your ‘selling points’ for your next interview. Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills website has some great interview tips and advice to help you think about this.  
  2. Find comfort in the unknown. Be at ease with the fact that 2020 has been completely unprecedented. It is completely normal to feel anxious and unsure about what your next step is. It’s important to remember that your future isn’t a race or a competition, take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your classmates or lecturers. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, there is support available in the form of Queen’s Wellbeing who are on hand to help those struggling through these very strange times.

Contact Queen’s Wellbeing Service

If you are unsure about your next step after graduation, there are lots of tools and resources available to you on our website. 

Explore your options by School or Sector.

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How I Overcame Self-Doubt as a Mature Student to become a George Moore Scholar

Emma Shaw, George Moore Scholar

Queen’s graduate Emma Shaw was awarded the George Moore Scholarship in 2020 to study an MA in Educational Policy and Planning at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. Here, she talks about overcoming health problems and insecurity to follow her dream.

 “I completed my undergraduate in International Politics and Conflict Studies at Queen’s and graduated ‘virtually’ in July 2020 with a 2:1, and was also awarded the Best Improved Performance Award between levels 2 and 3,” says Emma, whose path to success was not easy.

Imposter Syndrome

“I returned to education as a mature student and a single mum with two children.” 

Among her biggest challenges was just getting through the first year – a time when both she and her daughter experienced health problems. “First year was definitely one of the most challenging, both myself and my daughter had health issues, but I persevered and made use of the services offered at the University.”

Despite her ability, Emma admits she was plagued with self-doubt. “I had this feeling that I didn’t belong and that maybe I wasn’t good enough, I continuously doubted myself.”

Finding my confidence

By second year, Emma had made a conscious decision to engage more with campus life. 

“In my second year at Queen’s I made the decision to run for HAPP School Representative and became more active on campus. I would go on to also be the AHSS Faculty Rep and Part-time Mature Student Officer,” she says.

If you are struggling with life at university, Emma has this advice

“University can be a lonely place and it’s easy to get caught up in the pressure of it all. Some of the best advice that I could give to other students would be to find your tribe, whether it’s a small group of study buddies keeping you on track or becoming active in a club or society or even both, it’s important that you engage with your peers both for moral and mental support.”

Scholarship success

Before being awarded the prestigious George Moore Scholarship, Emma began to pursue her passion for inclusive education. “In my final year, I conducted independent research seeking to understand the viewpoints of young people ages 11-16 on higher and further education. My focus was on schools based in my community of East Belfast and what the barriers were that young people faced when thinking about their next steps in education.”

Currently completing her MA at the University of Texas, Emma’s home community is at the forefront of her mind. “When I return to Belfast, my aim is to found a non-profit community based organisation that will tackle some of the barriers faced by the community in terms of educational underachievement.”

We’re confident Emma will succeed in whatever she chooses to do next. 

To find out more about the George Moore Scholarship, don’t miss our information session on 22 October 2021, 1pm 

Register here