Studying during the pandemic: we hear from economics students

On 16th March 2020, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced, “now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact and travel.” Over a year on, the UK’s ‘roadmap’ out of a series of lockdowns is gradually being enacted step-by-step, but blended learning remains and campus life is overwhelmingly quiet as the government’s preference to work and study from home when possible, also remains.

As COVID-19 has changed daily life and instigated a once in a generation health crisis, we were keen to hear from students within the School of Economics about their experience of studying and adapting to changes forced upon us all.

Christian Pusterla

Christian Pusterla poses for a photo

Christian has recently been accepted to the Master of Finance programme at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is currently finishing his undergraduate BSc Economics degree at Bristol.

Q. Where are you from and why did you decide to come to Bristol?

A. I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland but hold both an Italian and Norwegian Passport as my dad is Italian and my mum is Norwegian. I decided to come to Bristol because it was a renowned university that combined a good mix of campus and city lifestyles.

Q. Have you still been able to experience Bristol life during the pandemic?

A. Ever the since the start of the pandemic I actually think I’ve been able to discover more of what Bristol has to offer than I would have had the pandemic not happened. Being able to go on long walks to the Clifton suspension bridge or down by the wharf and all the way to Hotwells allows you to appreciate what a beautiful city Bristol really is. Whether it’s at the top of Brandon Hill at sunset or over the Suspension Bridge and Ashton Court, there are so many wonderful spots in and around Bristol in which you can experience incredible views and get a feeling of nature and the outdoors right next to the city.

Q. Have you made good friends during your time in Bristol?

A. I have made plenty of amazing friends at Bristol, both through my courses, sports clubs and societies, as well as a load of other social events available to newcomers at the university. I have found there to be a real sense of community and general friendliness around the university and the city centre of bristol.

Q. What are your favourite memories over the last few years in Bristol?

One of my favourite memories over the last year in Bristol has to be Wednesday sports socials held at Gravity. Another favourite memory of mine at Bristol (particularly over the last year) is playing football with my friends down by Cabot Circus. Organising tournaments and games with coursemates, housemates and anyone willing to kick a ball has been a highlight of life during the pandemic.

Q. How do you feel the University of Bristol responded and adapted to the COVID-19 crisis?

A. I think the university has responded very well to COVID. Obviously, it came very quickly. And it’s a very difficult challenge to face when it was suddenly sprung on us in March of last year. Being able to reach out to teachers by email and just setting up a quick Zoom call particularly during COVID has been really beneficial in terms of any type of essay, help or references, for instance.

The university took many steps towards making the experience as authentic as possible for students. I think teachers have really been essential in providing additional support, in classes online rather than in person. This has obviously been a challenge for everyone. And, I think that teachers being available at all times is something that really helps you overcome that.

I think that teachers have really been trying to make the extra effort to make as much contact as possible. I think that the support level has gone up in more of an invisible sense. It’s obviously a bit more difficult to talk to people, to have these interactions with teachers given that it’s all behind a screen and a camera, but the availability of support has definitely gone up.

Nisha Ramesh

Nisha poses for a photo Nisha is from Malaysia and is in the first year of her BSc Economics and Econometrics course. She has a particular interest in behavioural economics and understanding inequality in the world by using and analysing various indicators.

Q. Why did you decide to come to Bristol?

A. I initially decided that I wanted to study Economics with some combination of statistics in the UK. I came to Bristol because they offered a BSc Economics and Econometrics degree, which a lot of the other UK universities didn’t offer.

Q. How do you feel the University of Bristol responded and adapted to the COVID-19 crisis?

A. I think the university did a good job with blended learning. It’s been pretty flawlessly executed with the classes and everything. It would be ideal to have more in-person teaching, but that’s not the university’s fault. It’s been pretty good the way they’ve handled everything.

Q. Have you still been able to experience Bristol life during the pandemic?

A. That’s the beauty about being in Bristol, there are so many green spaces to go to for a walk and plenty of cafes with brilliant coffee. I can’t count the number of times I’ve grabbed a coffee from Foliage Café with a friend and walked to the suspension bridge. With libraries and study centres open as well, it was good to have part of the university feel despite the ongoing pandemic.

Q. Have you made good friends during your time in Bristol?

Living in halls made it a lot easier to meet people and I’m lucky to say I’ve found a few close friends despite the restrictions which make it harder to meet people. It has helped that many societies held online events. For example, the free ‘give-it-a go sessions’ that some of the dance societies had were really fun.

Q. What are your favourite memories over the last year in Bristol?

A. My favourite would have to be when it snowed in January. I went to Brandon Hill early in the morning and people were sledging. There were two girls who I’d never met before who were using a baking tray as a sledge and they offered me a chance to try it out. Considering I’m from a country with no snow, I had tonnes of fun. I loved the creativity and just seeing people out enjoying the snow with their friends and family.

Q. How has the School responded to the crisis?

A. I don’t really have a lot to compare it to [having enrolled on to the degree since the onset of the pandemic], but based on what I’ve seen, it’s been pretty good. The whole online system has been efficient; doing asynchronous work along with synchronous work. Now I think a lot of students have really got used to it and that’s something new, which they needed and I think they should keep.

Ivan Das

Ivan poses for a photo

Ivan is a postgraduate student from India, who will graduate in 2021 with an MSc in Economics and Finance.

Q. What area of economics are you most interested in?

A. Economics offers a vast array of applications in the real world. No matter where you look, you can always apply economics in some form or the other. Coming from a developing country I was really interested in finding out how various economic agents and policies create a difference between developed and developing countries.

Q. Have you enjoyed your time at Bristol so far, even though there has been a pandemic?

A. Bristol is said to be one of the best student cities in the UK and after living here for seven months I can definitely vouch for that statement. Certainly, I can’t wait for everything to go back to normal to see the real intensity of student life in Bristol, but despite the pandemic, it has been nothing less than enjoyable, amusing, and fulfilling. It’s just so beautiful that you can never get enough of it, and I speak not just as an international student but also on behalf of the UK students who have been so mesmerized by Bristol that they plan to stay on it Bristol even after graduation.

Q. Do you think there has still been a nice atmosphere at the university and around the city during the pandemic?

A. Despite the lockdown and various restrictions, I feel the teaching and studying atmosphere at the university has still been maintained. We have often found ample opportunities to socialise with our fellow coursemates via various student activities.

During the lockdown, I tried to frequently go out on walks as Bristol has such beautiful places to be. There is Clifton suspension bridge/observatory and Cabot Tower from where you can get breath-taking views of the city. Lunch outside in Brandon Hill has also felt rejuvenating.

Q. Have you made good friends even though there has been a pandemic?

A. I have made some amazing friends despite the pandemic. This can be partly because I always take an active stance in socialising, but nonetheless, I have made friendships that I know are going to last a lifetime, beyond borders and countries.

Derrick Xu

Derrick poses for a photo Derrick is a current PhD student and tutor at Bristol, having also completed MSc and MRes courses here. He has a particular interest in civil examination systems in Asia, and how that affects people’s value of education in China.

Q. Why did you decide to come to Bristol?

A. Diversity. The main reason was because of the diversity of this country, and also Bristol as a city. It’s diverse, but it’s very inclusive. When you talk to people from other countries you can learn a lot about their cultures, about how they behave, how much behavioural differences are caused by their culture.

Q. How well did the University of Bristol respond and adapt to COVID-19?

A. I think the University of Bristol adopted very serious procedures to prevent the diffusion of the virus on campus. In the library, in some areas, we use booking systems now. So, you need to book a desk now if you want to study; and they also keep distance from person to person in the library where you are safe to work.

Now we [the School of Economics] are offering blended teaching, so part of the courses are delivered online and some on campus. I was a tutor for Data Analytics which is for the programme MSc Economics, Finance and Management where we offered different types of learning and support for the students during the COVID. We have live seminars provided to answer the questions that we have collected from students. Apart from that, we also have tutorials every two weeks which are designed to deepen the understanding of students for the course.

Advice and guidance on COVID-19 is available for prospective students, current students, staff, parents and supporters via the University of Bristol website.