The best way to summarise beginning my experience at Imperial during Covid-19 is that it is completely what you make of it. Starting university during a global pandemic is far from ideal, and almost every aspect of uni-life was hindered as a result – lectures were made online, student halls were strictly socially distanced, and for the most part, London was in a lockdown. But despite all that, it was still possible to have an amazing time, and an amazing I did have.
With all lectures and seminars being moved online, it was now completely up to us when we wanted to watch the lectures, and it was our responsibility to remember when we have seminars, and to make sure we attend these online seminars. So, as I mentioned, the quality of education became extremely dependent on ourselves, and how we make use of the resources available to us. I studied theoretical physics, and in my opinion, the quality of the lectures was superb. In most cases, my lecturers were passionate, extremely qualified, and very clear in their explanation. And in most cases, the lectures being moved online did not significantly impact the quality. In fact, I enjoyed the flexibility in being able to choose when to watch the lectures. Being relatively organised with my schedule of watching lectures, and doing my problem sheets, I feel like I really gained a much deeper understanding of physics this year. Above all else, I learnt how to think like a physicist, and approach problems in a proper way.
The pandemic however did greatly impact the sense of belonging and community within the college. Since we are unable to see our lecturers face to face, it was much harder to ask questions, conversate, and form a personal connection with the staff. Furthermore, for the most part of the year, only the library was open on campus, hence there was not much point on going to campus. This was very taxing on the mental health of students as we missed out on experiencing the traditions and events that makes one an Imperial student. Furthermore, the lectures being online also made it harder to take a break from academic work, as our rooms were now also our offices, our lectures halls and our classrooms.
Socially, this year was even more what you make of it. I ended up making so many friends this year, and for a handful of them, I feel like I really forged a deep connection with. Part of me didn’t expect this when I journey off to London wearing a surgical mask and a face shield. With all the social events cancelled, and all the normal facets of meeting people – to and from lecture halls, in the cafeteria on campus, at societies… removed; it was definitely much much harder to make even acquaintances people, let alone friends. However, at the end of the day, the students themselves have not changed. Everyone still wanted form connection, so we just had to get a little creative. I stayed in the Eastside student halls. And I remember I met some of my best friends now during a fire alarm in the Christmas break. The loud screeching of the alarms forced everyone onto the lawn of muddy grounds of Princes Gardens. Standing there in the freezing British winter wearing our PJs, we got to see everyone that lived in the halls out of their rooms for the first time. With nothing better to do, we introduce ourselves to each other. That unconventional union then laid the foundations for a self-organised Christmas dinner, which then snowballed (perhaps literally) into more gatherings, and the makings of friendships. The odds were against us making friends this year, but by just forcing ourselves out of our rooms, and putting in that extra effort and creativity to meet up in parks instead of the common room, to go for walks instead of going to a pub, we were still able to form close connections. And I am happy to say I am living with 2 of my closest friends next year that I met in the halls.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first year at Imperial, though it was at many points definitely challenging, and often extremely tiring. I can’t wait to return to London next year when the pandemic winds down, and truly experience what it means to be a student at Imperial College London.
ICAAHK Scholar 2020-2021
MSci Physics with Theoretical Physics (Class of 2024)