Students During Covid – 19; Q&A With Shauna Lee

Students During Covid – 19; Q&A With Shauna Lee is also published on fundyourcollege.com.

Students During Covid – 19 have more than just a full load to deal with. Students have a full load when they take on school; exams, studying, assignments, extracurricular. They do all this while balancing a healthy life, and a job. Add in the pandemic, and it’s a whole new story.

Shauna Lee Is an international student travelling from Canada to University College Cork in Cork, Ireland. There she is taking her Ph.D. in Museum Studies.

Although taking a Ph.D. is largely an independent task, her research thesis has been made even more interesting by the Covid-19 Pandemic.

How Did You Decide On Your Major? 

I don’t really have a major. Since my Ph.D. is research-based it’s entirely rooted in my own self-determined field of interest/work, which is museums. I’ve worked for 15 years in the museum sector, so the pursuit of my Ph.D. is just a natural continuation of my learning/career development. My research is rooted in the Archaeology department because that is where the Master’s in Museum Studies programme is based. I approached the department to see if they would be willing to take me on as a researcher and if a member of the faculty would act as my supervisor. I’m pursuing the first to pursue Ph.D. in museum studies within the department. 

Can You Describe A Bit More About Your Research And Your Research Topic? 

My research is rooted in the emerging concept of museum activism. This ultimately has me seeking out examples of the ways in which museums are using their collections, exhibitions, and programmes to inspire, implement and activate positive social change. I’m exploring how museums can become activated themselves as institutions and inspire visitors to take action against things like racism, inequality, human rights abuses, and climate change.

What Drew You To Attend University College Cork In Ireland? 

I did the Master’s in Museum Studies here in 2015-16. I applied to that programme because I had previously lived in Ireland on a working holiday visa in 2013 and I wanted to return to Ireland.

Is Your Program Primarily Online, In Person, Or Mixed? 

My degree is not a taught program, it is research-based. As such, pandemic or not, I wouldn’t be attending in-person classes. I may have chosen an occasional in-person module to enhance my study experience, but I’ve chosen from online options instead. In some ways, I feel this has been preferable as it is less disruptive to my overall workflow.

Please Describe How Your Coursework Is Set Up. 

My research is very much a solitary and self-directed endeavour. As such, I’ve developed an ideal home office space so that I can work at home, something I would have chosen to do pandemic or not. In addition to this, I occasionally meet with my supervisor, present at university conferences and seminars, and lecture for the master’s in museum studies program. All of these things have easily shifted online. I also engage with peer groups of other postgraduate researchers. This has probably been better in the digital space that Covid has allowed to flourish. I think I interact with them more regularly than if we were to occasionally schedule an in-person meetup as would have been typical pre-pandemic.

How Has The Pandemic Impacted Your Learning? 

Ideally, my research would have included a number of research trips to visit museums and evaluate their programs and exhibitions in relation to my research topic. I’ve dealt with the inability to do this by restructuring my research activities and pushing in-person visits to later in my process.

Additionally, I’m focusing more on virtual exhibitions and other online initiatives offered by museums. The pandemic has forced museums to adjust their practice and they are producing a lot of great online content. Finally, I’ve also devoted a significant amount of time to attending online conferences like museum next and the Museums Association. This has allowed me to connect with other museum professionals and keep informed of emerging ideas and projects relevant to my research, and like my academic peer networking, I’ve been able to do more of it than if I were to have to attend conferences in person. As I believe this overview of my activity suggests, the pandemic has not prevented me from being able to pursue my research and make significant progress. 

What Policies Has Your School Put In Place For The Pandemic for it’s students? 

Online instruction, mask-wearing/sanitizing/social distancing protocols, capacity limits/restricted access/pre-booking of campus spaces/services like libraries/computer labs/study hubs.

Do You Think They’re Working? 

I’ve only needed to be on campus five times since September. On those occasions, I observed very few other people, faculty, students or otherwise. This made me feel safe when I did have to go to campus.

Are There Non-Academic Government Policies That Are Impacting Your Learning? 

Yes. My research topic is “Curating Change: A Trans-Atlantic Study of Activism in Museums”. This ultimately has me exploring examples of the ways museums are using their collections, exhibitions, and programmes to inspire, implement, and activate positive social change and take action against things like racism, inequality, human rights abuses, and climate change. Ideally, due to the Trans-Atlantic focus of my research, I’d be conducting research trips to museums in Ireland/Britain and Canada/USA. Nationally imposed travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine requirements during the pandemic have made this kind of international travel impossible at present.

Would You Change Anything About Your Academics?

I think it could have been really exciting to pursue my Ph.D. split between 2 universities. Here in Ireland and maybe somewhere in Canada. This would have allowed me to benefit from double the resources and faculty support. This kind of split-institutional research isn’t entirely unheard of but requires advanced cross-institutional negotiation as the student still needs to be primarily based at one university or the other. It would have been interesting to explore if this would have been a possibility in my case but considering the pandemic it probably would have been hindered by travel restrictions.

How Has The Pandemic Impacted Your Life Outside Of School? 

Yes. I haven’t been able to enjoy the perks of living abroad as much as would like to be. You can imagine that I’d typically be spending my weekends and time off exploring the country and visiting some of my favourite places from previous sojourns to Ireland. I’d also likely be taking advantage of my close proximity to the rest of Europe. Neither of these things has been an option as for much of the pandemic we’ve been under quite severe restrictions, at times even limited to within 5 km of our homes.

Also, if it were not for Covid I would be spending my leisure time in pubs, restaurants, local attractions, and just enjoying the city of Cork. The inability to do this has limited my opportunities to meet people and socialize, an important part of developing a sense of feeling at home while living abroad. Thankfully, I’m living in a rental with four other housemates, so the pandemic restrictions haven’t been completely isolating. Finally, pandemic restrictions prevent me from travelling home to Canada if I so desire.

For example, I was not able to come home for Christmas. I made the best of it though and took advantage of a brief relaxing of restrictions here in Ireland. I rented a car and a cottage on the Dingle Peninsula and enjoyed a wonderful, despite being solitary, Christmas by the seaside.

Has The Pandemic Impacted Your Mental Health? 

A little bit. Mostly in regard to things that are out of my control. Like not being able to readily travel home to Canada if I needed to or when my housemates aren’t being as strict about covid restrictions as I am (not that anyone isn’t taking it seriously, I’m lucky to have great housemates in that sense). Anyway, to cope with this, I focus on the things that are in my control.

For example, to make me feel less stranded I signed up as a Canadian living abroad with the Canadian consulate in Dublin. Even just having them send occasional email updates regarding the Covid situation makes me feel less disconnected. In regard to my housemates, if I’m feeling worried about exposure, I change my behaviour by taking the time to sanitize shared surfaces, wash my hands more, stay in my room more/use the common spaces less. This is an easier approach to making myself feel better than trying to worry too much about what others are doing.

What Advice Do You Have For Other Students? 

1. Stay connected with supervisors/instructors and other academic supports as best you can,

2. Keep to a schedule/routine just like you would in a campus-based environment,

3. Be flexible/creative regarding your work plan/learning process,

4. Embrace the opportunities (like digital research projects or virtual study groups) that you likely wouldn’t have encountered if the usual way of doing things hadn’t been disrupted. 

Here’s the musical element of the students’ experience. Enjoy these remixes for all your studying needs for all students regardless of level.

“Megamix” By Grandmaster Miah

“Henry Salvador – Dans Mon Île” Remix by Froto

“Midnight Drive” by The Bootleg Boy 2

“Positive” Happy Hip Hop Beat Rap Instrumental by Ihaksi

“Beethoven – Für Elise (Klutch Dubstep Trap Remix)” By Dubstepgutter

What Advice do you have for your fellow students during Covid-19?

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