Category Archives: Education

what will student life be like this year?

Although it may still seem like a bit of a way off, it will soon be that time of year where we’ll be getting knee-deep in some studying again.

By Elliot Chard-Maple

With the next academic year on the horizon, we are all very much aware of the shift that is likely take place with COVID-19 still impacting our day-to-day lives. For new students, this might seem daunting, and that is entirely understandable. 

For returning students like myself, you will already be familiar with the transition to online teaching via the likes of Zoom. During these, quite frankly, unprecedented times, online seminars were strange at first. However, as long as we have our stable internet connections, we should be fine in the coming month. I will say, though, that I’m in the minority with an atrocious connection. As I attempted to attend seminars, my connection would drop time and time again to the point where it was impossible to listen in.

Fortunately, it appears that as of writing this, lectures will be recorded. We can only hope that seminars, should you suffer from weak Wi-Fi like myself, will also be recorded. Missing seminars due to low attendance is something that can be amended, but if you’re like my poor Wi-Fi and I, missing an online seminar would simply be unfair. 

But what of our social lives? What of the many students who are hoping to spend more time with their friends before they are launched into graduation and beyond? And what of the new students who have relocated, unfamiliar with Plymouth or its people?

Although social media has been our best friend over the last few months, it simply cannot replace the face-to-face experiences you can have while at university. Right now, it seems late-night drinking with your pals is a distant memory. All we can do is hope that things change in time. 

If you’re like me and are very concerned over how the university year will operate, I don’t blame you. I am about to become a third-year student and am very interested in how our timetables will work. Will we be required to physically attend university for seminars, for example? For me, that is an awkward position to be in due to my partner’s health condition. On the other hand, there are some people who just want to get outside and make the most of that wonderful university experience that may only come along once in your life.

Whether you want to be at the university physically, or want to remain at home to keep loved one’s safe, there is one thing we can all agree on: we all want COVID-19 to come to an end sooner rather than later. For now, we all must be patient and hope for the best.

Finishing Year 11 in 2020

Well that’s one for the history books.

By Annabel Jeffery

On the 20th March, schools shut their doors to all but a few students. “Exams will not take place” were the words that some rejoiced at, whilst others almost cried over. Two months ago, I was the latter.

I’d worked consistently from the start of my GCSE year, with my supposed first experience of exams looming over me from September last year. I’d seen GCSEs as a first step, but still one I wanted to excel in, the perfectionist that I am. I didn’t know what to expect, but this certainly wasn’t it.

Therefore, I was in denial when this announcement came. My phone buzzed with excited, confused and tearful friends at once. We half-heartedly “carried on” in school the next day, unsure as to how our grades would be decided and our futures looking blurry. Prom was put on hold (which we considered as cancelled), along with all of the other Year 11 experiences we’d waited for. In those final days we said goodbye to those we weren’t expecting to see leave for another few months.

For me personally, the uncertainty and unpredictability of the lockdown and pandemic has been the hardest part. At first, it was considered that we might be able to collect our results earlier. Now, the original results day of the 20th August has been confirmed, meaning a 5-month wait instead of the standard 2 months.

Moreover, these grades are evidently not what they should have been.

We still had three months until exams, meaning most of us still had more to do and further to go in achieving the grades we wanted. Whereas now, our mock results – the exams we’re supposed to make mistakes in order to learn – are being used as a factor in our final grade. 

I can’t help but feel extremely guilty for feeling this way. The pandemic is ultimately a far bigger concern. Sacrificing GCSE exams is a minuscule thing in comparison to NHS workers putting the lives of themselves and their families at risk. In some ways we could be considered the luckier ones – we get our results and carry on. The years either side of us still have exams that they are missing content for and some have only just gone back to school part-time. I’m also aware that Year 13 have got much bigger concerns over university due to their exams being cancelled as well.

Although, throughout these past few months, I’ve not known what to do next. Carry on revising? Start looking over A level content?

Like other students in this position, I’ve gone from working harder and feeling under more pressure than I ever have done, to doing practically nothing – leaving my brain unoccupied. The question I keep asking myself is: if to work hard means no meaningful results, then why bother?

On the other hand, whilst the first few weeks were a welcome chance to relax, I’m now starting to feel ready for a routine and a small amount of work. I thought that this was just my personality, but speaking to a few others in my year, similar thoughts have been brought up. We feel, and rightfully so, a bit forgotten.

Fortunately for me, my school has set small amounts of “bridge work” for each A level subject. This mostly includes reading lists and research for my subjects, which I’ve been gradually working away at, but schoolwork is only one element in school life.

Although I am someone who has struggled with anxiety around school and has not really enjoyed it, I find myself itching to get back. Seeing friends, leaving the house to study and having something to work towards are things that cannot truly be replicated during this pandemic. To be honest, whilst I’ve set a few goals, most days the most exercise I can do is running to the sofa.

But that’s okay, because all we can do for the time being is to sit and wait.

We can’t plan any celebrations for the exams we never had, even if we wanted to. But, for now, having a picnic with friends does the job nicely.

University of Plymouth Students Reflect on Lockdown Exams

By Tobias Chalcraft

COVID-19 has impacted our lives in many ways and exams are clearly of no exception.

While you might think alternative coursework, or even a classic essay, may be wise in these circumstances, most departments at the University of Plymouth decided to push ahead with exams in an online format.

Rather than receiving a 2-hour exam in Nancy Astor or Plymouth Pavilions, these new exams involve a paper becoming unlocked on our Digital Learning Environment (DLE) at a fixed time. You then have 48 hours to type up responses on a word document and upload the completed work onto the same site before the deadline passes.

This has understandably been interpreted as a less intense alternative to usual exams.

Casually researching appropriate academic literature on the internet replaces trying to access information that has been etched into your brain over the last few weeks. The heart-stopping declaration that “YOU HAVE 5 MINUTES REMAINING” is replaced by the beats of your favourite playlist. The only strain on your hands in these exams comes from picking up your sixth cup of tea.

We interviewed a handful of students from University of Plymouth to get a better insight into how they interpreted completing their exams during these unprecedented times. We started by asking if they preferred this format and responses generally showed a preference for this year’s arrangement, as opposed to preceding physical exams. 

Hannah, a University of Plymouth student, said, “I think it allows for students to fully show their understanding and depth of a topic as they are able to identify and use literature which is relevant to the subject”.

Another student added , “I found it easier to collect my thoughts and think more rationally and the [extended] time limit was an even bigger bonus than the usual two hours”.

On the other hand, some students felt “pretty indifferent”, or even said they preferred the traditional way of completing exams. One commented, “it was fairer in the sense that it allowed a better evaluation of students’ preparation”.

Although lockdown measures put in place to tackle COVID-19 have increased loneliness, there seems to have been a positive effect on students’ anxiety. One student said that online exams have “been so good for anxiety. I barely go outside as it is and having to go in an exam hall is b******s”.

Furthermore, there seems to be a divided opinion on how stressful these digital exams were, in contrast to the traditional format. One student said that she preferred the online experience because “cramming loads of information into my mind and trying to remember it isn’t really a good test of knowledge”. Meanwhile another undergraduate, Taku, said this year’s practice was “definitely a benefit as I felt more confident and sure of myself”.

Other students like Giulia, on the other hand, believe that these tests have been more demanding because “if you are ‘competitive’ student, you will not be able to simply work for half a day. [This year’s exams were] 48 hours of stress and constant perfecting, so I think that it was harder on my mental wellbeing than the normal 2-hour exams”.

When asked whether these online exams will be of benefit or nuisance to their grades, it was clear that most interviewees were unsure. Hannah said, “I really don’t know! You would think it would be easier to get a higher grade as you have access to books and the internet but as a consequence of this, the marking criteria will be a lot harder!”

Meanwhile, some students remain optimistic. Levi found having more time to find relevant sources to be “very beneficial” and thus hopes this will translate into a desirable outcome. 

Aside from lacking clarity and varying impacts on mental health, remote exams have also removed closure for students. One third-year student summarised this: “These exams seemed so anticlimactic. I missed having the satisfaction of hearing the invigilator telling me to stop writing and knowing I was done. This being the final year of my course added to that dissatisfaction. Submitting an exam on the DLE and then going back to play video games didn’t feel nearly as rewarding as finishing a physical exam”.

Adding to this, final year students are mourning their final nights out of university life: “while Zoom gives you the chance to celebrate with a couple of beers, it is a poor substitute for that last messy night out to put you off alcohol for life”.

Likewise, Giulia added that “being able to enjoy a drink with all my peers to celebrate together and the feeling of having accomplished something are the things I missed the most”.

COVID-19’s dramatic theft of students’ last few months of university can be seen in this final contribution from a final year student: “I have missed everything. The sounds, sights, smells. As jarring as they could be, they will not be there for me again. I’ll treasure university as an experience, but it’s passed now.”

Graduating From Home

“I told my Mum, Snapchatted my friends and had a takeaway for tea”: The anti-climactic end for the Class of 2020

By Abi Purvis

I had been preparing for the last mile of the degree race for the last two and a half years of my life. Ever since my first open day, the idea of completing and physically handing in a bound dissertation was incredibly exciting to me.

The excitement (and anxiety) increased when I was midway through my dissertation project and the deadline was in sight. In February, it was a relief to be able to turn to my course mates of three years and decide we were going to get each other through our dissertations with work coffee dates and a big celebration at the end goal – and repeat this ‘collective stress to reward’ cycle with our last two assignments.

Except that, thanks to Mr Covid-19, that couldn’t happen.

Myself and my course mates are not the only ones who have lost our memories that were to be. There are thousands of final year students who, like me, have recently faced an extremely anti-climactic end to their university experience. We have poured hours of hard work into even getting into university in the first place, and then battled our ways through our degrees too. All of this resulted in missing out on handing in that last assignment – one of the most anticipated moments of university life – to instead be sat at our parents dining room table, that we have converted into a desk, pressing submit on the final assignment and preparing to face the start of the aimless ‘groundhog coronavirus days’.

At first I felt a bit sick when I handed in my last assignment because I was anxious about it all being over, but soon I was just disheartened because it became an average day. Although, I did manage to persuade my parents to have a drink and play a couple of board games with me, which was nice.

Many of my course mates felt the same. Lily Smith, an English and History student at Plymouth University said, “When I handed in my last assignment, it felt kind of anticlimactic. It was meant to be this big thing signifying the end of my uni experience, maybe an opportunity to go out with my friends to celebrate. Instead I told my Mum, Snap-chatted my friends and had a takeaway for tea.”

For many students in their final year, there is a constant voice in their head asking “What next?”. For some people there’s the masters, the panic masters, or the graduate schemes… or for those like me it was the plan to internship for a few months and hope to stumble into something I love. But now? I’ve not got a clue. I’ve just been endlessly researching remote job opportunities to find a purpose in the mundane routine.

Again, thousands of soon to be graduates are in this same boat. What will career prospects look like for us after a pandemic? Will we ever have a graduation ceremony to celebrate our hard work? Will we be the unemployed Class of 2020?

And yes, we know we had to, and wanted to, sacrifice the end of our university years for the sake of the wellbeing of everyone else, much like every member of society has had to sacrifice at least something for the pandemic we face together. And so, every time I realise this, I feel incredibly selfish about mourning my lost plans and what could’ve been.

Instead we have ‘sucked it up’ and dealt with the at home distractions, the final year anxiety heightened by less than ideal study spaces, and patchy zoom calls with our lecturers. We did this even though our minds have been focused elsewhere… A.K.A the current pandemic.

As the Class of 2020 we need to remain strong and remember we still have our victory. Our hard work is complete (and, yes, it was MUCH harder doing it from home). We have earnt our degree no matter the grade or when we officially get it. We have proven that we have grit and immense levels of motivation to leave our lockdown depression pit of a bed, keep positive, and finish what we started those years ago – and hopefully employers will see that.

Well done to each and every one of us. We will celebrate together when we can.

Considering Calling Clearing? Why Wait?

By Mitch Gregory

Clearing. That dreaded word that every A-Level student shudders at the sound of, especially on Results Day. Clearing is so often associated with failure, rejection, and as a last resort; but how far from the truth that is!

I’ve been working in the University of Plymouth’s call centre for Clearing this year, and as a result I’ve seen would-be-students given another chance to go to University and study something they’re really passionate about, even when their A-Level results told them they couldn’t. The misconception that Clearing is for the desperate students who want to go to University and the desperate lower-tier Universities trying to fill their spaces is inaccurate. Throughout the Clearing process the University makes sure they’re filling their spaces with students who they see potential in, and similarly the student is just as critical and rigorous with their choice of University as they were in the first instance when they made their application on UCAS Track.

So how do you do it? Are you considering phoning up a University Clearing service in a change of heart bid to get into University, but unsure how or when or what to say? Let’s see if I can help.

When you phone up Clearing all you need are your grades and an idea of what course you’d like to study. Your helpful call-handler (who is probably a student at the university already!) will take some details from you and check that the course is available and you fit the entry requirements in some way. If that all goes smoothly then voila! You’re given an invitation to apply to the University via UCAS Track and hopefully, all being well, you’re accepted! Even if you don’t quite meet the requirements for your course – maybe you don’t have that elusive B in a science or your GCSEs were a bit lower than the University would like – they don’t give up on you just yet. You’ll probably be put through to an Academic from that course, or maybe through to another section of the admissions team for their consideration. They may take into account your work experience or offer you a Foundation course so that you can learn the basics before starting your BA/BSc/BEng. The absolute last resort is that the University has nothing available, but even then there’s always another University just down the road!

All I really wish to say is that CLEARING IS OKAY. If you’re going through, or considering going through, Clearing, it isn’t the end of the world. Instead it is the start of something that will probably change your life. I’m about to go into my third-year of University and although I didn’t go through Clearing, I know a lot of my friends did. When you’re all there studying together and having the time of your life, whether you went through Clearing or not is irrelevant.

The Life of a Cardiac Physiology Student

By Katie Stote

Imagine being an undergraduate student, in your second year at university, operating technology which is crucial to a live operation happening on a real patient. As a second year undergraduate Cardiac Physiology student, that is just one of Kayleigh Slocombe’s day to day responsibilities while on placement at Derriford Hospital. As a humanities student, I had never even heard of ‘cardiac physiology’ before meeting Kayleigh. When Kayleigh begun to tell me about her course, specifically her role on placement at Derriford Hospital, it quickly became clear to me that this undergraduate course deserved more recognition. To find out more about the life of a Cardiac Physiology student at the University of Plymouth, Kayleigh was kind enough to sit down with me for an interview.

“Being on placement in my first year was quite different to second-year. In the first year, the placement was a lot shorter than second-year, so the main thing I was doing was ECG’s (a test which measures the electrical measure of your heart to check it is working correctly) and shadowing. Now in second year, there is a lot more responsibility and one-on-one time with the hospital staff. My responsibilities this year include: making sure the defibrillators in the Cath Lab (where tests and procedures regarding the heart, arteries and veins are conducted) are working, ensuring the emergency trolley is all stocked, including emergency temporary pacing boxes (so that if a patient’s heart stops beating we can put in a temporary pace maker), and I also make up pressure bags which are used to take pressure from inside the blood vessels and heart.”

“When the patient comes in, I put an ECG on them and a SATS probe to check their oxygen saturations. Throughout the procedure in the Cath Lab, I’ll be watching the screens, making sure nothing is going wrong, noting all the medications and equipment used, whilst one of the qualified cardiac physiologists observes me. Outside of this, we also lead a variety of other procedures to test heart physiology and function. These include equipping patients with monitors, which are like ECG’s but will stay on the patient for 24 hours or a week. When the patient brings their monitor back, I analyse the data to then hand on to the doctor. I am also responsible for calling the emergency arrest number if the doctors are unable to get a patient out of a cardiac arrest, to get another team down to help with the patient”.

Despite the struggle of leading a very different lifestyle to her friends whilst attending her placement, Kayleigh has not let this stop her from making the most out of her experience. She has even decided to base her dissertation research on a live trial which is starting at Derriford Hospital in July, which could reshape the future of stent implantation by creating more effective and efficient treatments for patients with narrow arteries. Kayleigh explained, “What’s good is that this does need researching, so my research will actually be useful to the hospital. It’s a good feeling that with the everchanging services that the Derriford Cardiology Ward offers, even as a student I can be a part of that and potentially make a difference.”

Finally, Kayleigh told me what inspires her about her course and her future career: “I think my course is a hidden gem, because it is a really specialised, specific course but at the same time you have loads of different pathways and opportunities you can take after graduation; you aren’t just tied down to one career path. As science and technology is advancing, cardiac physiology can only grow. Our specialism is technology and diagnostics, so with all of these technological developments it is so exciting, we have no idea where this area could grow from here.”