Blog Contributor: Shannon Ruzgys
When I imagined going to grad school, I often pictured myself sitting in a small seminar room, having thought provoking discussions with a group of like-minded individuals, making plans to save the world. However, the year 2020 had other plans in store for my grad school experience. With the forced introduction of online school, we were left no choice other than to navigate this unique time in history together.
When I started school, I felt as if I was being cheated out of a “real” grad school experience and I found myself questioning if I was going to get the same skills and experiences as students who were able to graduate before me. While of course the experiences had to be altered to an online setting, I never felt that I was not receiving a full and quality education. I found myself looking forward to the discussions in our weekly classes, and while we we’re joining from all over the globe, the discussions were enriching, and I still felt connected to the material and my peers. When we finally signed off for our final class of the year, I truly felt connected to my peers and professors, and although we’ve never met in person, I believe that I still managed to make friends for life.
This program has changed the way I view sustainability but most importantly it has changed the way I think and utilize my knowledge. I have learned how to view problems from multiple perspectives and how to apply research into real world applications. I have learned about the importance of scientific and ancient knowledge. I have learned how to critically evaluate and challenge my baseline assumptions. But most importantly, I have learned to listen and critically evaluate knowledge, accepting that it is completely okay for my opinions to my challenged and changed.
One thing that has been extremely challenging for so many of us during COVID is feelings of isolation and loneliness. However, while I have not met any of the people involved in the program, we were still able to foster a sense of community and connection in an online space. I am extremely grateful for the faculty, my professors, and of course my peers for going above and beyond in making us feel connected.
As a thesis student, much of my first year has been dedicated to designing and building the foundations of my research. Through this program I feel that the way in which I look at research has been altered, which has ultimately made me a stronger researcher. I have learned about the importance of connecting research to real world problems as well as the importance of viewing problems from multiple perspectives. This insight has enriched my research immensely and all of the courses that I took we’re directly relevant in enhancing my thinking and skills. Building a research proposal has been a long and difficult process, however I feel that the content and skills that I was learning along the way helped with the entire process. While COVID has made a lot of things harder, I also feel like I was granted freedom to develop my ideas in my own space and on my own timeline, which helped foster my creativity and thinking along the way.
Overall, while this year is not what I imagined my first year of grad school being, I wouldn’t take anything back and I am extremely grateful for the things I have learned, the experiences I have gained, and the friends I have made.