The Life of a Graduate Student: COVID Edition

With warmer weather on the horizon, the Lab’s two newest graduate students, Kat and Paulina, have their first semester of a doctoral program under their belt, but it hasn’t exactly been a typical start to their journey. COVID-19 has changed the landscape of life as we have known it, and some of those changes may be here to stay. Work, school and social gatherings have changed and with it, the experience that new graduate students get during their first year of a new program. We spoke with Kat and Paulina and asked them about their experience during their first semester, all while coping with the ever-changing landscape of COVID and hybrid-learning.

Kat had a lot to share about challenges and bright spots of her first semester:

“There have been many things that have made entering the program during the pandemic a challenge, but by far the biggest bright spot has been our incoming cohort. We were all very open with each other from the beginning that we wanted to feel connected to each other and spend (COVID-safe) time together even if the program was not back in person. We’ve met up for brunch, studying, we run research ideas by each other, we share memes, even go to workout classes together! While very little has felt normal or natural, my connection to the first-year cohort has felt both normal and natural and I am so grateful for that. With that, my cohort twin, Paulina, is THE BEST. Having started this program with her in my cohort and in the lab, I don’t know how anyone finds their way in a Ph.D. program without a cohort twin. I feel so lucky that we get to learn and grow beside each other for the next five years. After our incoming cohort, the second biggest bright spot has been the ability to do almost every class and meeting in my pajamas with my cat curled up on my lap (and occasionally making a cameo). It has been helpful to commiserate over pandemic challenges with people in my cohort and in the BRANE lab, especially sharing tips about how to make home feel like a place that can function for both work and relaxation. It has also been helpful to talk with the 2nd year students, who also came into the program mid pandemic, to learn from their successes and challenges while forming community at a distance. Overall, it’s really been the people in the program here at UNC that have made integrating into the program and finding connection in our first semester possible.”

Paulina shared Kat’s enthusiasm for people here at UNC making a big difference:

“The thought of being able to work with an advisor I admire in Stacey and an outstanding team propelled me into my first semester of graduate school with excitement. Although it was not easy to adjust to a virtual learning, a new program, and a new city, I felt supported by the faculty and my cohort to push through. During my first semester, I learned from highly knowledgeable professors, brainstormed innovative research ideas with incredible minds, and got to share my love of research with fellow students. I feel truly blessed to be a part of the BRANE Lab at UNC. I am excited to grow as a researcher and clinician within the program regardless of rain, shine, or COVID.”

While we have started to move back to things like in-person learning, research and social gatherings, the hard-work of the BRANE Lab has endured and adapted, whether it has been happening on campus, in the community, or at home with our cat and laptop. We’re very glad to have welcomed Kat and Paulina to the lab and are looking forward to all the amazing things the Lab will get up to (and to quote Paulina), “rain, shine, or COVID”.