One of the many casualties of the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak are the thousands of final year students across the country who found themselves in lockdown during their final weeks of their degree. Online teaching replaced face to face lectures and graduation ceremonies are indefinitely postponed. In this article I speak to recent 2020 graduates about how they feel the virus has impacted their future.
Q. What was it like graduating during a pandemic?
A. It was a bit weird, it kind of felt more special because they were trying to overcompensate for us. Obviously, we couldn’t be there physically but I was quite lucky my family were all preppy so they got me like a big gown and stuff. They surprised me too, I didn’t even guess it was coming and I went out (of the house) and came back and they had fully redone it to look like a graduation ceremony so it was quite lush. We had a nice Zoom call and our teachers were advising us to drink and things because it was a celebration and after an hour or so, people just started asking if they could say a few words. Then, it ended up being around 45 people saying a few words around 5 minutes each so we were there for like 6 or 7 hours in a Zoom call! It was nice because there were people who you wouldn’t think would openly express themselves, saying things like, ‘you guys really meant a lot to me these last few years and helped me build my confidence’.
Q. Did COVID-19 affect your plans for the future? How?
A. Yeah, well I’m not sure really. My original plan was to save some money over the summer and move to London but there wasn’t much point to that right now because the industry is at a standstill. So at the moment I’m getting my PT (personal training) and then getting the qualification which I had planned to do anyways. I’ve got an agent and I’m still auditioning for stuff so it hasn’t changed too much because all through the summer I just practiced anyway, doing what I wanted to do.
Q. Has the audition process changed a lot now?
A. Well, yeah they have. I’ve only been to 2 or 3 in person auditions but most of them are through self-tape now. It’s quite challenging, especially by yourself. I had a thing through for this film, and they asked for me to do this one scene and it was 50 seconds long – there was no one at home with me so I had my ironing board up and my washing basket on top of it trying to get the camera to eye level! I asked my friend from Uni if she could record herself saying the female parts and leave gaps between lines so I could fill them, it’s a change in that way. In person, I think, obviously they need to see under your mask so it’s kind of like the element of trust that you don’t have COVID. I had an audition and ,you don’t shake hands anymore, but I’d take off my mask to do a scene and then put it straight back on at the end.
Q. Have you found there are less opportunities to audition now or more? Tell me about the project you’re working on right now.
A. I’ve had more. Now, i’m getting sent loads of stuff and it’s so easy to do because you can video it yourself and it saves you driving places. It’s a play called ‘Cicero’ written by my friends Connor, Shai and Peter. We were meant to do it during April but because of the lockdown in April we had to cut and stop it but they’ve kept basically the same cast but changed the script kinda so now i’ve got the main part which I wasn’t orignally haha. It’s changed alot because you can’t be in the rehearsal space for too long because of health and saftey, but I’m glad that we’re back doing some sort of play even if it’s short and limited in what it is. We had a zoom call back in September when we decided to go ahead with the production and it’s so technical, there were all these new COVID rules and we had to sign a COVID contract which is like you have to wear a mask during rehearsal. It’s really funny ‘cause the director would say ‘I wanna see you smile’ but you can only see our eyes.
Q. Has the situation affected your future? Have you had to adapt any of your initial plans?
A. I had quite a few legal jobs lined up that I was planning for throughout the year and left, right and centre, all of them were being cancelled. Because I do Law, it’s extremely competitive so even just getting to the interview stage is a big achievement but obviously all that got cancelled and postponed for even next year or just completely. Myself and thousands of students, especially in Wales, have had to adjust and revitalise their plans last minute; I have friends who’ve had jobs cancelled, their years abroad cancelled and seeing that around is saddening especially when you know we’ve all worked hard.
Q. You’d mentioned a company you’ve created to me before this interview. Can you tell me more about it?
A. I’d love to. It’s called The Community Law Project UK limited. Because of the pandemic and the personal experiences I’ve faced in getting calls saying, ‘You’re successful but because of this pandemic we can’t offer you a role because it’s been cancelled’, along with seeing law students and all my friends struggling, as well as seeing how this pandemic has affected other disadvantaged people, I wanted to, but couldn’t help them and they’re the ones getting hit the worst. So, I wanted to find a way to solve the issue of those people not getting their work and getting my friends employed. I worked with great individuals to be able to start a company built on the backbone of law students, law graduates and even regular students who are interested in getting legal work experience and having access to it. I’ve had friends who are doing French, Geography etc who have said, ‘Hey Dan I know you’re very active in your legal sector, is there any way I could get some experience?’. I wanted to find a venue to be able to help everyone at once and solve all the problems that have been occurring. We’ve recently set up, we’ve got a website and socials under the name, The Community Law Project. We’re going to launch officially later this month (October 2020) but we’ve already had an email list of over a hundred students and grads who are ready to get on that work.
Q. What was it like graduating during a world-wide pandemic?
A. If I’m totally honest, it didn’t feel like I had graduated at all. One day I was in the lab with my supervisors and other students and the next day I was leaving with no plans to go back again. All the exams were online, and I had to switch to distance learning which was okay but it’s not a brilliant replacement for normal lectures. The graduation ceremony was very generic and non-personal and was pre-recorded on YouTube. My family was obviously disappointed as they wanted to watch me graduate with my peers.
Q. Did COVID-19 affect your plans for the future? How?
A. Yeah, they did. I had money saved from my year in industry during my third year of university and I had planned to go travelling to South East Asia after graduation. Obviously, that didn’t end up happening due to COVID. I went from not being able to leave the country to not being able to leave the house! Because I couldn’t go travelling I’ve been looking for employment and besides that I’ve been trying to keep myself busy. Applying for jobs is hard especially now with COVID with lots of people out of work, there’s more and more people seeking jobs than there are jobs available. I’m looking for jobs in other areas other than Chemistry and mostly looking at graduate scheme type jobs, it can be quite annoying because there seems to be hundreds of steps before even getting to the interview stage. You have to go through Psychometric tests and other assessments before getting to an interview, for the interviews to then be online!
Q. What advice would you give to future graduates if they end up in the same situation as yourself?
A. My advice would be to make the most of your time at University and make an effort to keep in touch with friends you made along the way even if that’s online. For online exams, they’re interesting because most of mine were open book which means that the way you study changes a lot rather than having to remember the information you need to be able to have a good understanding instead so I’d keep that in mind. I haven’t got much advice to give on applying for jobs because if I did I’d probably have one by now, haha. But I’d say just stick to it and keep trying because that’s all you can do.
“Don’t get disheartened when applying for jobs and the right one will find you eventually, lots of people are in the same situation right now”
– Maisie Morgan
Q. Did COVID-19 affect your plans for after graduation?
A. It actually did have an affect because I started working in November 2019 but then they (place of work) requested my graduation certificate but I couldn’t give it to them because of COVID. So, that kind of put me on probation again for another six months, it messed up my whole permanent job role at the bank.
Q. Did you try anything different that you wouldn’t have considered doing after graduating because of the virus?
A. Hmmm, I started my own business! So, I started that, ‘Bare Aesthetics’, which is selling UK skin care products to Sri Lanka so that had me interested!
Q. What advice would you give to the future graduates who may end up in the same position as you?
A. I would just say, to take to it easy..it’s a global pandemic. No one can push you to a corner or, you know, treat you differently because you don’t have your graduate certificate. They need to come up with something or the other to sort you out. Graduation will suck and you won’t get the whole festival-type feeling but other than that it’s pretty chilled.
Q. What was it like graduating during a global pandemic?
A. Well, it was interesting. It was a real double-edged sword. On one hand, doing a journalism-based course with one of the biggest news stories to happen in a century made for really rich material. It gave me the opportunity to explore more creative avenues of photography because I had to redirect my project into something I could do from my room. On the another hand, yeah it is disappointing, we didn’t get a graduation ceremony and it would’ve been nice to celebrate, you know, the achievement with my classmates and family but it is what it is.
Q. What have you been up to since graduating?
A. Through the summer I was really fortunate to get on the governments ‘Track and Trace’ programme which felt good to make a contribution towards a national effort to combating COVID-19. It was always a temporary contract and it just so happened that the end of the contract lined up really nicely with the start of my masters. So, umm, I got to work that and because I wasn’t going out and socialising and spending money on beer I got to save up and buy a few nice things for myself so yeah, it was good.
“Use social media that’s a major major thing, mental health wise as well, just keep in touch with people”
– Sian Kirby
Words and Images by Abi Davies