The unforeseen first lockdown due to COVID-19 was undoubtably challenging in so many aspects as I mentioned in my first blog. However, I would like to share my own experience as a student, during that time I was trying to stay motivated, positive and be conscious about my wellbeing, even though at times it was difficult to maintain that positive outlook.
Though, one of the tools that helped me to survive that time, was being engaged with Raising Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education (RAMHHE) research team on a voluntary basis at first.
I had joined the campaign because I believe in their call, to host student-led mental health campaigns, where student and staff members can engage in uncensored open dialogues about mental health. Enabling a whole university conversation about mental health, and ultimately reduce the stigma attached to discussing one’s own mental health and psychological wellbeing. This ultimately creates an inclusive learning space that support students to overcome mental health as a barrier to learning, because all students deserve to have an overall better/good higher education experience.
Consequently, I had my breakthrough when I landed a research assistant internship opportunity with the RAMHHE team and this where my substantial growth took place. The research lead provided weekly three hours research method training, attended by students from different schools within the university. For example, we had an extensive training session on data analysis, were we learnt about the various cycles of it, how to code and extract the data, then identifying the themes and thematically organising it. I learnt so much about research methodologies, from the initial literature search, identifying key terms, using data base such as EBSCO utilising all the available features, applying inclusion and exclusion criteria all the way to writing up our research for scholarly publication.
Another excellent learning experience during my internship, was being involved in conducting primary qualitative research which included a series of virtual focus group discussions. The entire process stretched from recruiting and consenting student participants, organising the participants, facilitating the focus group discussions, transcribing and thematically analysing the data.
Moreover, having the opportunity to present with my team in the Learning and Teaching Symposium 2020, for the first time, was a valuable lesson. It helped me to enhance my understanding of the research world, and how to present your ideas to others in a way so they can see it too, and to have the ability to defend your argument and hold your ground in a professional manner.
Looking back at the beginning of the journey, I can see and deeply feel a more confident version of me today, remembering how nervous I felt in the first meeting, when I had to introduce myself to all these amazing people from different countries and academic background. So, learning how to communicate effectively within this team, was essential skill to gain as well as organisation skills and the routine weekly updates to keep track of assigned tasks. Also, being able to ask for further guidance or support from other team members, was a life lesson too, as it does not come naturally to some people, it takes one to let go of their ego to accept that need for the other.
Lastly, the most important element of the entire engagement experience was that strong sense of belonging to a great community, where we were all connected, in a time of raising need for connectedness. A community, a safe space, where I felt comfortable to share my thoughts and feelings, no shame, no judgment, just care, encouragement, support and understanding. Throughout the lockdown and up until now, we maintain this open communication channel, where we share any personal/general concerns, celebrate achievement and share interesting academic news about recent publications and many more. Therefore, my pandemic survival guide is as follows; find a cause, find a community where you belong, keep engaged, and stay connected in a supportive environment.
Alshaymaa Muhammed is a second year Public Health student at the University of East London.
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