Finding optimism as a graduate in the middle of a pandemic

Written by Brooke Cadwell

“So… what’s next?” The inescapable question for final year university students everywhere, as preparations for the ‘real world’ get underway.

For many graduates, it will be the first time they have stepped outside of formal education to get a taste of the relentless real world. For some, this is a relief and an exciting opportunity for change. However, for many, this is a time of great anxiety and pressure.

Being a student during the COVID-19 crisis has been far from easy. Not only are we met with the looming expectancy to bag the perfect career, but we are expected to carry on paying normal tuition loan fees, live in precarious student housing, and deal with constant and unpredictable rule changes. With little attention and promise from the government to give students the support that they so desperately need, there is no wonder why optimism for the future is dwindling.

Tyler Cadwell, a 22 year old graduate, studied Chemistry at the University of Lincoln and finished with a first class degree in summer 2020. As a recent graduate, as well as my own sister, her and I certainly felt the strenuous toll that COVID-19 had on her ability to find her dream career: “I felt that even the concept of a nationwide lockdown literally demotivates you – you feel as if doors have been slammed in your face.”

On paper, Tyler has every opportunity to grab her dream career with a first-class degree. However, she expresses that getting the ‘perfect’ degree isn’t enough, even in a pandemic: “Between my friends and I, there is some pessimism concerning the job market. Since we are all locked in our homes, somehow there is even more pressure to stand out from the crowd as nobody seems to be doing anything special with their lives.”

Tyler took on a full-time supermarket assistant role to help pay the bills while searching for a job in her field, but wishes that more support from the government was given to recent graduates desperately looking for jobs during the pandemic.

“Once you graduate and you don’t actively keep up links and connections with professionals or lecturers in your sector, you can feel somewhat cut off from the professional world, which ultimately led to my own lack of motivation to find a graduate job. It can be easy to start to feel a bit depressed, especially with literal boundaries in the way.”

However, despite it all, Tyler is coming to terms with the idea that, although society isn’t the same as it was, it is completely normal and human to feel anxious and uncertain. She affirms that there is still a cause for optimism for all graduates, as having time alone away from the race for the graduate job has given her time to reflect on what she would really like to do with her life:

“Before the lockdown, I was confused about what I wanted to do with my degree. Recently, I decided that  green chemistry is what I really want to do, and I believe that having time away from my subject has helped me realise that. This has helped me pick the perfect masters course which will help me specialise my interests!” 

She also suggests one way that current students can help themselves to stay connected to their career: “Lockdown may make it more challenging to reach out to your personal tutors and lecturers, but make sure to form good relationships with them as they may be an integral part to your career hunt if and when you want to embark on it.

“Don’t be afraid to email, ask for a voice or video chat, and discuss your worries about professional life post-COVID – a problem shared is a problem halved, they want to help you!”

As students living within the coronavirus crisis, we still have a wonderful opportunity to stay connected with those who inspire us – it is so important to shift our focus less on the ‘dream’ job title and appreciate the connections we have with others. By practicing a growth mindset, rather than to strive for the perfect job portfolio, we can be more patient and forgiving to ourselves in the face of both professional and personal struggles.

“I do feel that I am still in a good position. I am very content, safe and happy in my current situation, and I can take as much time as I want to embark on the next chapter of my life!”

Despite the individual actions that us students can take to look after our mental health during the pandemic, we should not forget to hold our government and our institutional bodies accountable for injustices against new graduates and students in 2020. As well as that, we must reject the governmental actions which harm and disadvantage groups impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

Optimism has a funny way of showing itself—our own student magazine started a petition to lobby for a Safety Net for Leicester students, which has exceeded 1,000 signatures. Clearly, people are optimistic and hopeful for the future of graduates. Overall, it is through vigorous and unapologetic activism that we can have a chance of achieving a better and fairer society for all. However, in the meantime, it is more than acceptable to take life slowly, and to practise self-acceptance in every part of our lives, personal and professional.

Brooke Cadwell is a final year English student at University of Leicester with a keen interest in politics, arts and culture.

Image by Stephanie Hau, from Unsplash.

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University of Leicester's Student Magazine

Leicester Student Magazine

University of Leicester's Student Magazine

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