‘I handed my diss in at 6k words’: Uni students on the paralysing effects of the pandemic

‘My entire plans for next two years just got cancelled in the space of a week – of course I’m missing deadlines’

It seems like a running joke at the moment that uni students just cannot be arsed to do revision or write their dissertations alongside weathering a pandemic. But beneath the tweets about giving up and jokes about submitting essays half finished, there is a serious truth. As one student told me: “It’s a once in a lifetime pandemic, I’m not focused on my dissertation, I’m focussed on not offing myself”. Students don’t want to be submitting 6,000 word long dissertations, or missing deadlines by a week, or handing in work they’re not even slightly proud of. But they are.

Why? Because they’ve been sidelined in a national crisis, have no idea where they’re going to end up after they graduate and genuinely can’t visualise the benefit of their years of hard work anymore. The pandemic has halted them and they’re risking years of work because they just cannot motivate themselves. Far from being snowflakes – they’re struggling, and their grades will inevitably pay the price. The Tab spoke to otherwise high performing students who have well and truly given up with only two months to go.

‘I did not work over Easter, I missed a deadline by a week, I can’t do anything right now’

Tim, a student at Manchester, told The Tab that the process of losing all his future prospects has meant that any motivation he had for uni has completely disappeared. “I did no work over Easter at all. I was sitting in my little corona-sad bubble just doing nothing. My parents resorted to telling me they’d get me a graduation present if I graduate. Like – not with a 2:1, just if I graduate at all,” he said.

“So yeah, I missed a deadline by a week, because my entire life for the next two years essentially got cancelled in the period of a week. I was intending to go hard on festival journalism over summer, while getting a bar job, and travelling around to see my friends all over the country. There was even this girl I had a thing with last year I was gonna see in June. All super basic shit, I know I’m not especially ill affected but that kinda makes it worse you know because people aren’t sympathetic at all.

“Also, it’s the end of uni, I forgot about that but like I’m not gonna see most of my course mates ever again, most likely, or even some of my friends. And certainly most my work mates or… yeah, essentially I lost like 70 per cent of my friends probably for good in a week so that’s why my mental health went to shit.”

‘I haven’t done uni work in seven weeks’

Izzy, a final year at Southampton, told The Tab: “It’s so ridiculously hard to get the motivation to work at the moment. The last day I did proper work was seven weeks ago, in the uni library. I then slept through my last ever lecture (although obviously I didn’t know it at the time), and woke up to the news that my uni was closing a week early for Easter – this was before we knew everything was moving online for the rest of the year. I told myself that I’d just give myself some breathing space to come to terms with my final year of uni ending in this way, but now two months later I’ve still barely done anything.

“I’ve had two assignments due in this time and have submitted them, but one essay was written in a weekend and the other assignment was done in an afternoon, and I submitted it around 11pm. I’ve still got to do my dissertation and three more essays, but I don’t honestly have the time or the mental energy to do them properly. I got an extension for my diss, which is due in two weeks. I’ve done prep work for it, but written zero words, and I’m giving myself just a day or two to do my other essays. I hate working like this and feel really guilty about it, as I’ve always been a good student and genuinely enjoy my degree, but I just can’t bring myself to work in the way I normally would.

“It’s not just that it’s hard to work from my bedroom, without the peace and quiet of the library (or all the books I need!) – now there’s the no detriment policy it just feels pointless to work. I know we need to do it, but I genuinely don’t care about my grades any more. I think even if there wasn’t the no detriment policy, I wouldn’t be working much better than I am right now. I know you really go to uni to get a degree, but it’s also about the whole experience, not just learning. I won’t get summer house parties with my friends, or pints in the Union bar after my last exam, or my graduation, and knowing that makes it so hard to stay motivated.”

‘I’m too busy trying not to top myself to care about my dissertation right now’

Students have had their mental health seriously deteriorate as a result of the pandemic. Uni work is not their priority, if anything it’s an added stressor at the moment. Mia, an Edinburgh student, said: “I submitted by dissertation at 6000 words – the recommended word count was 8000. At that point, I’d been up all night, didn’t care anymore, knew it wasn’t going to count anyway (our uni has a lenient no detriment policy). Like it’s a once in a lifetime pandemic and writing my dissertation is not going to be my priority you know. My priority right now is making sure I don’t self harm or slip into any really bad mechanisms that are common with this level of depression I’m at. I’m trying not to off myself and also get a job which is not the easiest! And I have exams on top of that.

“The worst part is – this entire semester, I had been really getting on top of my mental health. After falling apart on my year abroad, I was rebuilding myself by living with structure: gym every two days, library in between, and brunch with mates. I was feeling good, and I was on top of my life. I was really looking forward to putting my all into my dissertation over the last couple of months of uni. But lockdown meant my structure completely went. I found myself staying in bed all day and crying all the time for no reason. My mum, who works in the NHS, got coronavirus quite badly, but is now thankfully recovering.

“The dissertation topic that I am so passionate about became another thing on my mounting to do list, as well as exams, and online classes. I ended up pulling an all-nighter, and submitting something I wasn’t at all proud of. On top of this, I need to find a job, which is obviously really hard at the moment. I understand that lockdown is necessary, but almost everyone I know is in the same boat. I don’t feel stress anymore, I just feel incredibly numb and pessimistic about the future.”

‘Students who have never missed deadlines in their lives are begging for extensions’

Lauren, a final year student at Aberdeen, has been at uni for five years as a result of the Scottish degree system and a year abroad. Even with five years of study behind her, Lauren isn’t exempt from the debilitating effect the pandemic is having on students. She told The Tab: “So personally what I’ve been struggling with is the massive fight between ‘I don’t care this is pointless’ and ‘actually everything I hand in from now on completely affects my degree’. I’m very borderline, so literally every grade I get matters, I know for a lot of people that isn’t the case because they’re pretty set in one degree classification if that makes sense or they have a lenient no detriment policy. I haven’t asked for any extensions because all my courses gave us one week automatically and I managed with the extra week, but a lot of people I know have never asked for any in all five years of uni but have had to ask for ones now.

“I’m usually pretty good at motivating myself, I never hand anything in late or leave anything to the last minute but I’ve definitely had days recently where I just couldn’t make myself do anything. We had the option to do mock exams for French, part of my subject, and I have never done anything half assed in my whole life. What I handed in was awful, because they weren’t counting towards my grade but I felt I should do them. The only motivation I have now is that the end is in sight.”

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Lost grad jobs and panic Masters: We spoke to final years graduating with nowhere to go

‘It’s much stricter here’: This is how lockdown in Spain and Italy compares to the UK

Lockdown moved all teaching online, but disabled students have asked for that for years

Featured image (before edits) by Annie Spratt on Unsplash