Thoughts on online learning during COVID-19

August 10, 2020
Grant Gilbert

A veterinary student shares some of the challenges he faced with virtual learning and social isolation during the pandemic.

COVID-19 turned my vision of veterinary school upside down. I had imagined classroom lectures, hands-on experience at our small and large animal hospitals and, of course, relying on my lab partner to have completed the pre-lab readings. And that’s mostly what was happening until everything came to an abrupt halt a few months ago. My veterinary education went from eight hours of classes at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine to Zoom video conferences from my apartment.

On March 11, my university sent us an email that our campus would be closing due to COVID-19. Everyone in my lecture hall was shocked to say the least. We eventually received an official email from the dean stating how school would be run in the coming months. In the midst of all of this, I had a radiology midterm the next day because veterinary school is fast paced with little time for interruptions.

How my routine changed

A “normal” day at school no longer existed. All of my lectures began at 9:00 am, sometimes 10:00 am. I had my alarm set for 7:40am on weekdays to allow ample time to get ready, make breakfast and feed my guinea pigs. Most mornings I found myself rushing out of my bed in a panic to scramble some microwaveable oatmeal together and set up my laptop in my living room. The rest of my morning involved sitting in my apartment on Zoom and annotating lectures on my iPad while eating breakfast and having my guinea pigs on my lap for some company.

We were always given a 10 minute-break between each lecture. I tended to use that time to slowly, but surely finish getting ready for the rest of my day. These 10 minutes used to be spent chatting with friends and classmates and stretching to try and keep the blood flowing.

Missing the on-campus student life

While I had more time to focus on my schoolwork, like busting out study guides and practice questions, and updating my bullet journal, I missed socializing with my friends. I realized that I really enjoy being an on-campus student. I truly missed being able to go to happy hours and vent about our lives as veterinary students and just socializing with people.

All the work that comes with veterinary school was hitting me like a truck, even with added time of not having to go anywhere. Life-work balance did not exist. How could I focus on getting through the pandemic when I had all of these exams coming up? The short answer was, I just had to focus solely on taking these exams and forget about everything else.

After day three of this, I started to get cabin fever and needed to go outside for a walk. Thankfully I had a close friend who would come with me to walk their dog. We stayed six feet apart through the neighborhood of University City in West Philadelphia. Going outside to just walk and take in fresh air was essential to my sanity. Sometimes, I would walk by myself or run, just to have something to look forward to each day during the Philadelphia stay-at-home order.

Aside from all the usual school stress, there was now this added anxiety of managing the little amount of money I had. Not to mention, stores were running out of essential supplies and I was literally just trying to figure out what was going on with the world!? Trying to use studying as my escape from all that anxiety was not feasible, as my concentration waned, and my stress-eating ramped up. I would ask myself, ‘Can I pay rent next month?’ or ‘I hope my Wi-Fi works efficiently given how much I use it for my education now—an education that I pay tens of thousands of dollars for in addition to being an out-of-state student from New York.’ I could just feel the cortisol tearing my body apart day by day, and I didn’t even have an infection to fight off.

A positive outlook

With the world falling apart (as it seems), I thankfully have been able to keep looking on the bright side. These series of events made me rethink a lot about life and what’s important. Thankfully, I have a roof over my head, my family is healthy and the opportunity to study at an amazing university for my veterinary education. People have also reassured me that things will get better. I’m thankful for my classmates. Everyday we’ve been communicating and providing support to one another. This crisis has likely brought us even closer. The current pandemic is in fact something we are trained for in veterinary school under the OneHealth objective, and we cannot wait to help the world in the years to come.