Student life under lockdown

19th May 2020

News, Student news, Alumni news

So what is it like to be a student in lockdown? Wadham undergraduate Zahra Grieve, (Classics, 2018) shares her experience of third week of Trinity Term. 

  • Zahra Grieve

    Zahra Grieve at home

Sunday 10/05/20

I got up at 8am so I could try and finish off both my essays. At the end of Hilary I had Mods - essentially two weeks of pretty intense exams. Since the beginning of Trinity I’ve started Greats (my finals options), which involves doing two units a term. This term I’m doing Latin core, a big literature paper, and Roman History 5 (RH5), which covers the Roman Republic from 146BC to 46 BC. This means that I’ve got ten essays this term - generally two due on odd weeks, and one on even. On even weeks I have a 2 hour reading class which replaces my normal Latin Core tutorial. By a twist of fate (and some over-zealous doodle polling on my part) both tutorials are on Tuesdays - and so are due Monday night. I quite like this though, as to means I’m quite flexible in my timetable the rest of the week. So far I’m about 1000 words into each - aiming for 2000 for Latin Core and 2500-3000 for RH5. 

I spend most the day writing my essays, stopping for breakfast and lunch (and several coffees). The Latin Core one is about the power, function and history of poetry in Vergil’s Eclogues. I find the topic really interesting but struggle with identifying some of the intertextuality and allusions to Hellenistic poets like Callimachus and Theocritus. Tutors, librarians and my faculty have been really great about making the books we need available online - like the commentary’s which indicate specific interplay. This helps massively but it's still difficult to write my essay while referring back to the online books. I normally split my computer screen, which is okay for essay writing but more difficult in tutes. 

I have the same issue with the RH5 one, where I keep needing to refer back to the primary texts. This week we’re looking at the popular politicians of the 2nd century, like the Gracchi. The history secondary reading was initially hard to get hold of, but my tutor has since made a lot of PDF's available on Canvas. Canvas is the online learning platform that my faculty is using. It's been a really useful way to share resources for both of my units.

I can get all the primary texts online, but the website frequently logs you out after brief periods of inactivity. This is more irritating than anything.

I pretty much finish the Eclogues essay, only needing to do the conclusion. I write another third of the RH5 essay. It’s about four in the afternoon by this time. On top of my essays I have another due date coming up. I’m a UNIQ Digital Ambassador. 

Part of my role involves marking periodic assignments submitted by selected year 12 students, designed to help them develop their critical thinking skills, demystify applying to Oxford and generally support them in their journey for higher education. I marked 8 assignments last week - only 17 to go… I get 12 done before dinner at five. Since it’s Sunday we have a roast.

After dinner I planned to video call with one of my flatmates - which we do weekly - but she’s snowed under with an essay so we reschedule for tomorrow. I’m not a huge fan of working in the evening so I spend the rest of the evening watching TV, going to bed around 11. 

Monday - 11/05/20

I have an early-ish start again, getting up at half 7. I’m a morning person but now struggling with getting up to work and staying motivated, much more than when I’m in Oxford. This is helped by my mum bringing me a tea. As an only child she’s loving having me at home. She got up slightly earlier and is working from home also. It’s just the two of us so it’s fairly peaceful working. She spends a lot of the day on calls so we try to work at different ends of the house. 

I’m quite glad for the noise though, as it’s much better than being home alone every day. She’s a nurse, though mostly office-based, and now specialised in child safeguarding. For the first few weeks of lockdown it looked like she was going to be out on 12 hour shifts testing people or redeployed to a ward at our local hospital. Instead, a lot of her colleagues are out testing people or on wards, while, as a more experienced member of the team, their calls and emails have been re-routed to her. She’s very busy, but she’s here. 

I finish both my essays around 12. By the end I was struggling with my concentration and my eyes hurt from all the screen time. My RH5 essay is a little longer than I anticipated but I’m not sure how to cut it down. I send them both off - one to my tutor at Wadham, another to my RH5 tutor at Brasenose. I take a bit of time for lunch, but I’m eager to keep my momentum going so finish my UNIQ marking. One of the year 12 students sends me a message thanking me for the feedback, signing off their message with stay safe.

At 4pm I video call with one of my friends, who’s also my tute partner for Latin core. We talk for around an hour, chatting about our weeks, and how we found the essay. After that I have dinner and watch some TV with my mum. We’ve been slowly binge watching One Tree Hill - a show which she claims is even worse than Hollyoaks (our guilty pleasure). We finish season three, and I go to my room to video call my flat mate.

She also does Classics too but mostly we’re not talking about our work. More than anything, we’re laughing, especially at our numerous technical issues. She recommends a film to me, ‘The Naked Civil Servant’, describing it as very Wadham. In return I recommend her ‘Centre Stage’, a 2000s teen ballet movie of decidedly less substance. We talk about the things we really miss - the street food at Gloucester Green (the souvlaki is my favourite) and brunch at Silvie’s, the cafe next door to the Dorothy Wadham Building. These were both places which we frequented a lot last term, using them as a break from exams and revision. We talk for an hour and a half until her mum slips a note under her door, telling her it’s time for dinner. I spend the rest of the evening continuing the One Tree Hill marathon with my mum. 

On the whole the virtual tutorials are pretty okay, they’re just more tiring than normal ones and I miss the few minutes of chatting that I used to have with my course mates before and after them. It’s sometimes more difficult to navigate the larger classes - working out who’s speaking when, especially if there’s a lag in the feed - but, generally, they’re pretty okay too.

Tuesday - 12/05/20

I get up at 8am today, though I take my time getting ready. I’ve got my RH5 tutorial at 10 on Microsoft Teams. A little before it starts I make sure everything’s set up and have a quick re-read of my essay. 

In the early weeks of term I used to make my laptop eye level by stacking it up on some of my mum’s cookbooks - now I just use the window sill. This gives me more room to work on the vanity table which I’ve dragged into my room as a makeshift desk. 

Even though I know all of my tutors and tutorial partners pretty well, the virtual tutes make me feel more anxious than in-person tutes. Instead of waiting outside one of tutors’ office, I now click ‘join’ on Microsoft Teams. Teams works quite well for the most part though sometimes we have an echo. When this happens we have to leave then re-join the meeting, which can be a little disruptive. Overall, it’s a really productive tutorial and I get some really great notes. From Mods I learned that I’m less likely to re-read my notes if they’re handwritten, so I plan to type them up tomorrow.

The tutorial was an hour and a half making it now 11:30am. I have a coffee and scroll on my phone for a bit, relying to some friends’ texts. I have lunch with my mum, before getting back to work at 1. I have a quick scan through Vergil’s Eclogues and read my tute partner’s essay, since I’ll get the chance to query any of his ideas in the tutorial.

The tutorial starts at 2, and lasts for an hour and a half. These alternate with Latin Core reading classes, which my tutor holds on Zoom since there’s 6 of us for these. I’ve found that there tends to be less technical difficulties on Zoom than Teams. Again, it’s a really productive tute, and we have an interesting discussion that builds on some of the things we discussed in our previous reading class. We have a few technical issues, mainly freezing, but they go away quickly.

On the whole the virtual tutorials are pretty okay, they’re just more tiring than normal ones and I miss the few minutes of chatting that I used to have with my course mates before and after them. It’s sometimes more difficult to navigate the larger classes - working out who’s speaking when, especially if there’s a lag in the feed - but, generally, they’re pretty okay too.

After that I go and check on my grandparents, who live a few doors down from me. We’ve done our best to social distance but it’s very difficult. At the start of lockdown my grandad was in a London hospital, in need of emergency surgery. Though he’s on the mend now, it was difficult for him having no visitors, and surreal also, as the ward around him was cleared day-by-day to make room for the expected influx of coronavirus patients. Eventually they moved him out of the ward too, bringing him home to Kent by ambulance. Since my grandad is shielding (and still recovering) and my nan has mobility issues, either myself or my mum go round to walk their dog. My mum also does their shopping once a week. Like a lot of us they’re finding lockdown quite lonely so it’s great to see them, even if from a distance.

After that, I come home and have a pretty chill evening - talking to friends over social media, watching some Netflix and going to bed around 11.

  • Average daily screen time of seven hours, 25 minutes

    Average daily screen time of seven hours, 25 minutes

Wednesday - 13/05/20

I’m feeling a little burnt out by this point and, since I only have one essay this week, get up a little later at 9am. I like to get on with my work as soon as it’s set since I find having it hang over me stressful. But today I’m not feeling it. 

Ideally I would’ve finished the bulk of the reading for my next RH5 essay - this week on the Italians and the Social War - but it feels a bit overwhelming. So, instead, I focus on the smaller goal of typing up my tutorial notes. However, I only manage to type up the notes for the RH5 tute, which takes me hours since I keep getting distracted.

I stop for lunch and have a break, sitting outside for a little so that the fresh air will clear my head. After lunch, I decided to start my essay reading, it’s more active than typing up my notes so I hope, by necessity, that I’ll concentrate better. The readings are quite long so I only get through one and a half articles.

I stop at 3pm to have a Zoom call with my uni flatmates. For the first two terms of second year, we had been living together in the new Dorothy Wadham Building. We had a six person flat on the 3rd floor of block B.  The new accommodation was really nice to live in - the kitchens were huge (much bigger than Bowra) and it was a nice balance of living independently and simultaneously having college there to sort any problems. 

One of the adjustments coming home, especially for such a long period, is the quite strange blur of being an adult/reverting back to being in your parents care e.g choosing what’s for dinner, doing household chores etc. Normally in vac this is a minor thing, since its for so brief a time, but is much more imposing now that we can’t really go out. One of the biggest adjustments, for me, being at home compared to Oxford, is not being able to walk everywhere. Though my friends live relatively close, even in normal circumstances I’d still have to drive to meet them. Though lockdown measures have loosened from today, I live in quite a built up area where there aren’t many parks, so even if I were to meet a friend there, that too would require driving. Although I can drive, I don’t have a car, which makes me completely dependent on my mum to go anywhere.

Over the Zoom call I get to catch up with all of my flat mates, which is really nice. It’s interesting hearing their different experiences of remote learning since they’re mostly STEM students. They no longer have labs this term, and are more dependent on their lectures. As a humanities student I have fewer lectures than them - around two a week. One thing I really like about remote learning is that most lectures are now recorded, with the handouts always available online. This means that I can watch lectures when it’s most convenient, and I no longer have to worry about lecture clashes. The call ends around half 4, at which point I just call it a day. I have dinner with my mum, walk my grandparents’ dog and watch some Netflix/use social media. I go to bed around half 10/11.


One thing I really like about remote learning is that most lectures are now recorded, with the handouts always available online. 

Thursday 14/05/20

I get up at quarter to 8, have breakfast and start work around 9am. Today’s plan is to try and power through my essay readings and come up with some semblance of an essay plan. I split my laptop screen so that the article pdf or chapter is on the top half of my screen, and the document with my notes is on the lower half. 

Other than an hour break around 12, I spend most of the day doing this. I’d hoped to have started my essay today, even just the introduction, but I’m finding the topic quite technical so decide to get some distance and leave it until tomorrow to start.

In the late afternoon I spend an hour or two starting to prepare the texts for my reading class on Tuesday. This week we’re looking at Horace. I need to prepare (be able to translate) Odes 3.24-30. We’ll also have a general discussion on all of Book 3, so there’s some pre-reading. For now I just focus on learning the vocabulary I don’t know. Normally I do this via Quizlet, which is a website where you can make online flashcards. Though remote learning obviously hasn’t affected this, I left all of my Latin dictionaries in Oxford, not anticipating being away for more than a few weeks. This means I have to rely on slightly more dubious online dictionaries as well as the commentaries, which are reliable but quite time consuming.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get my dictionaries from Oxford. The Dorothy Wadham Building has a 9-month lease. Though college has waived the rent, which is a big relief financially, I’ve left a lot of my possessions there, including a lot of my clothes, books and my headphones. Though these are all things I’ve learned to live without, I’m looking forward to lockdown measures being loosened enough to retrieve my stuff.

Some lockdown measures, however, have started to be loosened this week. The effect of this on my area has mainly been increased road congestion and more takeaway options. As well as our local chip shop, open for delivery, so are both of our local MacDonald’s. Tonight, however, we settle on Chinese food as a kind of mid-week treat. In the evening I have a Zoom call with my friends from home. Like a lot of UK students they’ve been doing open book exams online, which they’re finding very stressful. One of them also recently got a job in a supermarket; she often starts at 3am, restocking shelves. Finding work like this has become a necessity, since they both live out privately and so, even though they’re at home, still have to pay rent. I head to bed around 11.

Friday 15/05/20

Up relatively early to start my essay. I find it easiest to focus in the morning, which is why I prefer to do high-concentration actives like essay-writing around then. I feeling much more motivated today and get around 1300 words done, and also plan out my next paragraphs. 

I’m really pleased with the progress but I hoped to do more, so that I could have some time at the weekend to catch up on my lectures (I’m behind on two). At the moment my RH5 essays tend to include some kind of discussion of Roman legislation, which, after several hours focus, becomes increasingly confusing. I stop and decide to work on something else.

Continuing on from yesterday, in the late afternoon I continue with the preparation for my Horace reading class. Today I finish learning the necessary vocabulary via Quizlet. I don’t get much further, however, as my mum gets a call from my grandad. He’s been feeling unwell, a resurgence of the symptoms of his last illness, and his doctor has advised him to call for an ambulance. My mum goes over to my grandparents’ house, remaining at a distance, to help explain his medical history to the ambulance staff. They take to him to hospital. After that, I find it very difficult to focus and stop working. 

I go for a walk before dinner, and spend the rest of the evening trying to relax with my mum. We watch Charlie Brooker’s Antiviral Wipe on iPlayer, which helps to offer some light relief. Soon after, I go to bed.

Saturday 16/05/20

I struggle much more on the weekends getting up early. It’s easier in the week when my mum’s at work too, since we’ll follow a similar routine. For that reason I lie in until half 9, not continuing my essay until 11.

I get my word count up to just over 2000 words, which takes around 2-3 hours, when my concentration starts to wane. It’s depressing staying in all day working, so I resolve to finish it tomorrow. Instead, I capitalise on the hot weather and spend some time in the garden. I spend some time outside reading Caroline Criado Perez’ Invisible Women, which is concerned with how the gender data gap contributes to discrimination against women. It’s quite heavy reading, so I only get a few chapters in before just enjoying the sunshine. 

Later on, I go and check on my nan and walk her dog. After dinner, I continue yet again with the One Tree Hill marathon. I head to bed around 11. 

  • Zahra's week in pictures

    Zahra's week in pictures

To keep studying from getting too monotonous I like to change up where I’m working, whether at a desk, my living room, my kitchen or my bedroom. Where I’m working tends to reflect how much concentration I need/how motivated I’m feeling. The choice to choose where I’m studying is a privilege which lots of students don’t have, so I’m very lucky. Even so, working at home can be draining and full of distractions.