For most UCD students, the end of the exam period is met with heavy sighs of relief. Finally, the burden of online exams and radically altered assessment comes to an end. For some students however, the end of the exam period marks more than the end of a semester, it instead signifies their last moments in their degree. We interviewed four different students sitting their final year assessments in UCD this year and explored what it meant to be finished with their degrees.
When asked how Covid-19 impacted their experience of final assessments, the four students reported difficulty in adapting to the changed circumstances. Carla McEneaney has just completed her final exams for her BA in Maths and Music, and explained how “the exam material itself had to be altered as we now had access to our lecture notes, so questions that would be considered easy marks, such as stating theorems or proofs that had been covered in class were now not on the paper anymore so it did make it slightly harder to get marks.” Fionnula Curran, a Theoretical Physics student, said “there was the fact that you’re missing the adrenaline rush that the exam hall provides, so it’s hard to do the exam at your usual speed when you’re just sitting in your own room”.
Similarly, Adam, a Commerce student, reported that “I, myself, do not mind studying at home at all as it is a quiet and calm environment for me . . . However, I do believe that the assessment structure, which inevitably became more overwhelming in a shortened time period, resulted in a very stressful experience for all, including myself”. Conor Lynott who is finishing up his Master’s in Library and Information Studies, also noted that “As I was registered with the Access centre, most of my support was actually stripped, so I didn’t have a personal assistant . . . I couldn’t do one to one appointments anymore”. Evidently, the pandemic ensured that students were finishing their degrees under an increased amount of stress.
In normal circumstances, with the exams coming to an end for the undergraduate students, and assessment nearing an end for postgraduate students, celebrations would be in order. However, with Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, many students found themselves unable to celebrate how they would have expected to. When asked if they had any loose plans as to how they expected to spend the end of exams, the four students report similar expectations. Carla explained “I suppose just to spend as much time as possible with my friends before we all returned to different parts of the country”.
Likewise, Adam noted: “I was planning to celebrate the end of my degree with loads of people that I knew inside and outside of UCD. This is a very special and opportunistic time for myself and all my fellow classmates who have graduated from the Bachelor of Commerce this year. It was difficult to be confined inside the four walls of the house to celebrate such a monumental event in our lives, but I strongly believe that we are doing the right thing by social distancing until things get back to normal.”
Conor highlights how the restrictions affect the celebrations of students: “I suppose, one of the ways I probably would have celebrated would have been going over to one of my friends’ houses and having chill out time [and] watching some TV.” Conor also notes how “[it’s] more lonely than it would be normally.”
Fionnuala further explores this sense of loneliness, explaining: “Yeah, I had planned a holiday with friends to celebrate the end of exams . . . What I’m missing more though is just meeting up with friends for tea and lunch etc, just to be able to relax in each other’s company without worrying about exams.”
Some of the students tried to embrace socially isolated celebrations. Fionnuala tells me that she “had a (distant) meet-up with a friend from home and then had a group call with some college friends later on”. Likewise, Carla explains: “I was lucky enough to finish my exams after the restrictions had been eased slightly, so my two best friends came over and we sat in my front garden 2 metres apart and had a couple of drinks and chatted since we hadn’t seen each other in over two months. I still haven’t seen any of my college friends though, our celebrations together just consisted of a zoom call to finally chat about stuff that isn’t exam related.”
Conor, who will finish his Master’s in August points out: “Well if the government’s plan for lifting the restrictions goes to plan, the bars and restaurants will probably be open by the end of August”. While undergraduate students have seen their celebrations altered dramatically, there is a glimmer of hope for postgraduates.
When asked what a proper celebration would mean to them, students reflect on the importance of finishing their degrees. There is a particular emphasis on the friendships forged along the way. Adam explains: “It will definitely be a time to reflect upon the most special three years of my life. I believe the central meaning will lie in my appreciation for all the friendships and networks I have formed over the course of my degree”. Carla further illustrates this: “It just would’ve been nice to celebrate together before we all go our separate ways, between masters programmes or going into a job it’s going to be hard to find a time that suits everyone when this is all over. What is vital to each of these student stories is the loss of time with their loved ones, and perhaps, that sense of closure that a proper celebration would have lent.
Savannah Murray – Features Writer