Dear academics: Zoom seminars SUCK and Cambridge students want you to stop doing them

“Oh, sorry, you go first!” “No, you go, I insist”

Dear academics: consider this an open letter.

zoom seminar /zuːm ˈsɛmɪnɑː/
A universally uncomfortable hour characterised by awkward silences.

As this (very official and legitimate) definition indicates, Zoom seminars are just about the most dreaded event of the week. Why, you ask? To answer this question, I  have presented here ten things I hate most about Zoom seminars – in the form of a numbered list. Because although our required readings may have no coherent structure whatsoever, this article sure does.

Image Credit: Author’s own screenshot from Camfess

1. Act. Natural.

“Please don’t let me be the first person to show up, please don’t let me be the first person to– Great, I’m the first person here.”

There’s only one thing worse than a Zoom seminar, and that’s being the first person to show up to a Zoom seminar. Thanks to term now being online, if you haven’t had a moment like this yet, you most likely will sooner or later.

You’re then faced with a dilemma. Do you make awkward small talk with your professor, or employ the ‘blackout’ strategy: keeping your mic and video turned firmly OFF and pretending you’re not there?

The struggle is real (Image Credit: Author’s own image)

2. *crickets*

Picture this: the professor’s talking. They ask a question. You start to panic – you know the answer, but you don’t know if someone else wants to offer theirs first (alternatively, you haven’t done the reading and have no clue what to say). What are conversational cues in a Zoom call, anyway?

About ten seconds of awkward silence passes before you can finally assume with confidence that no one’s going to speak up (at this point, the professor looks like they’ve lost faith in the next generation). You finally unmute yourself, take a deep breath, and then: this dreaded exchange happens. Every. Time. Without fail.

“Oh, sorry, you go first!”

“No, you go, I insist.”

“So is… anyone going to say something?” (Image Credit: Heenal Shah)

3. ‘Your internet connection is unstable’

If a fellow prisoner- sorry, classmate doesn’t interrupt you, then the WiFi certainly will. Why does it always seem to go down the moment you start talking?

The events that ensue are what feels like ten minutes of faffing around with your laptop to get the connection back, spouting apologies that your professor probably can’t hear (because of, y’know, the WiFi), and then having to repeat yourself when you finally get the signal back. Of course, by which point, you’ve probably forgotten what you were going to say.

Or worse: your connection letting you down so brutally that you get kicked out of the Zoom call. You then have to text someone in your class to ask the host to let you back in and pray that they see it before the seminar ends. You would have thought all those times you were tech support for your parents would have paid off – clearly not.

Image Credit: Author’s own image

4. The formal shirt/sweatpants combo

The laws of lectures don’t apply to seminars. With mandatory participation comes cameras that have to be on – as if Zoom seminars didn’t sting enough. No longer can we wake up five minutes before a call or attend from the cosy warmth of our beds. We actually have to *shudder* make ourselves presentable.

Luckily, only our top halves are visible on Zoom!

“No one’s gonna know”  (Image Credit: Heenal Shah)

5. The constant fear of accidentally having your mic on.

The constant fear of accidentally having your mic on. Enough said.

6. Dog ate my seminar reading (alternatively, ‘Oh, no. I’ve forgotten about the seminar reading’)

Motivation is at an all-time low this term, and with all that’s going on, it’s incredibly difficult to keep track of everything that needs doing. And, yes, this is just a long-winded way of saying that we’re tired of cramming in a hundred pages the night before a seminar.

Image Credit: Author’s screenshot from Camfess

7. ‘Sorry, sweetie, were you in a meeting?’

On the note of being at home this term, can we please just discuss the sheer mortification of having your mum or dad walk in mid-seminar? This is especially awful if they ask you a question about dinner just as you’ve turned on your mic after the mandatory ten-second awkward silence (mentioned in point one). Not the one.

Image Credit: Author’s own screenshot from Camfess

8. I’m looking kinda cute today

Speaking of embarrassing things happening in your frame – being able to see yourself in a little square the whole call is a recipe for a little self-absorption. Staring at yourself for a bit too long, almost missing your professor’s point, and then being paranoid that everyone saw where your eyes were pointing: we’ve all done it.

“Who is SHE?” (Image Credit: Heenal Shah)

9. They’re looking kinda cute today

Zoning out after staring at someone you have a crush on, again not catching your professor’s point. What? Lockdown gets lonely.

“Never wanted to hold a hand so badly” (Image Credit: Heenal Shah)

10. The illusion of privacy (alternatively, ‘I didn’t need my dignity anyway’)

I’m sure we’ve all at some point, and too late, realised that the host can see the direct messages we send via the Zoom chat to other students. Not embarrassing at all! Ha ha… (If this article was how you found out, I am so sorry to have been the one to break it to you.)

“What do you MEAN my ‘private messages’ aren’t private?” (Image Credit: Heenal Shah)

So there you go, beloved academics, Zoom seminars are awkward, embarrassing and just plain suck. I could really do without them and probably so could you! We know you are trying your best, but that doesn’t mean I’m not mortified every time I freeze onscreen mid sneeze.

Sincerely, Cambridge Students

Feature image credit: Heenal Shah

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