“I am excited to be studying optometry again”

OT  speaks to AOP student representatives, Oliver Rose and Hina Patel, about the adapted university experience and the effect of local restrictions on student life

laptop with face mask
Pixabay/Junjira Konsang
Students in cities across the UK have returned to a very different university experience than they would have seen in their first semester last year.

The academic approach has been altered, with lectures moving online where possible, and practical sessions taking place in smaller groups, while social activities are restricted or have been reinvented to take place online.

This is in addition to local restrictions, as the Government continues to roll out its three tier Local Alert system in various places across the country.

With the university experience so changed, OT spoke to AOP student representatives, Oliver Rose, from Glasgow Caledonian University, and Hina Patel, from the University of Bradford, about their experiences of studying through the restrictions.

How have you felt about the local restrictions and how they have impacted students such as yourself?

Oliver Rose: Glasgow Caledonian University (OR): I feel the local restrictions certainly make sense, although they can be frustrating for some students. I am in a luckier position where I am in my final year, so I have already built up friendships with coursemates. I still find it difficult not being able to see them face-to-face, although we keep in regular contact through messages and video calls, which certainly helps.

Hina Patel: University of Bradford (HP): I think the measures that have been put in place are completely understandable and are needed, but the restrictions have made it difficult for students to complete work to the best of their ability. For example, prior to COVID-19 you would be able to use the library as a workspace as well as for its facilities. But now, instead of walking into the library and having a quick flick through the books to find what you are looking for, you have to request what you want and collect it, as they aren’t all available as online resources.

What impact have the restrictions had on the academic side of your studies?

OR: I really value studying in a small group, as it makes it easier to discuss our understanding of topics and learn from one another. I will miss these group sessions going into this year, but I hope we can find a way to replicate this online. I am slightly concerned about the practical skills I may miss out on due to numbers in clinics being so limited, but I feel it is still too early to fully comment on this.

HP: I think the greatest restriction for us is the level of practice available. As a third-year student trying to achieve competencies, on the one hand I feel slightly disadvantaged as we can’t practise to prepare fully, especially as the last time we did any practical work was in March before the lockdown. On the other hand, everyone is in the same position and it just forces us to be more prepared for clinics when we have them, to ensure we get the most out of them.

What social impact have the restrictions had?

OR: I am lucky not to live alone during my studies, but I can still feel isolated sometimes. I do feel working and being in university occasionally for the practical side of the course helps with this, though. I miss being able to talk to many of my coursemates the way we would during a break or practical session. I am part of our Optics Society committee this year, so it is a challenge to think of ways to give different year groups an opportunity to socialise. I am hoping we can find some creative ways to enable this, but time will tell.

HP: Lectures are online, and due to social distancing rules, clinics have been altered so that we have virtual clinics to keep the numbers down. It’s weird that where you would normally have a quick chat with people before or after lectures, you can’t. Yes, we can message but it’s the face-to-face interactions I miss. Even some societies take place virtually. I don’t think it’s the same.

For me, the biggest social impact is that I can’t see one of my closest friends, Jas. She was one of the first people I met when I moved to Bradford as we both studied ophthalmic dispensing and then went straight on to study optometry. We’ve been in the same boat from the start. This year for us would be like completing the final leg of the journey before starting pre-reg.

Have you had any concerns around the restrictions or COVID-19 in returning to university?

OR: Working during the summer, I have had time to get used to how we are restricted in a clinical setting. My only real concern would be having to self-isolate for whatever reason and missing out on some clinics.

HP: Not so much at university itself, because I know the university has taken the appropriate measures to ensure both student and staff safety. What concerned me about coming back to university was the rising cases in the surrounding areas. Living in student accommodation, you occasionally want to go outside for a walk to get some air, but I feel there are a number of people who are still blasé about the situation, which makes me question whether it is worth going out. I don’t think it is right that some of us are nervous about going out just because others don’t follow the rules to help keep each other safe.

Have there been any positive aspects that have come about due to the changes?

OR: I feel all of the time spent alone has helped me learn to get into a healthier mindset while isolated for longer periods of time, when previously I would have felt the need to be out seeing people face-to-face more often.

HP: Due to social distancing, with fewer people at once in the clinics, you get to spend more time with your supervisor, which is good as it pushes you more.
As much as I enjoyed spending time with my family in lockdown, I think we all needed to get our independence back in a way. It is by no means normal now, but normal in the sense that we are able to do our own thing again. For me, even some form of normality is helping during this odd period.

How does it feel to be back at university to study optometry again?

OR: It feels great. It is exciting to finally get back to new things again, especially after such a long break. I prefer the time I spend learning new things because I enjoy feeling focused on something. I will also be starting my dissertation soon, which is slightly daunting, but I hope to take a lot from the experience.

HP: Although the foreseeable future is still very much unpredictable, I am excited to be studying optometry again. It is nerve wracking, and I am anxious, but I am excited because I just want to complete my degree and doing it through this adapted teaching and clinical delivery will be interesting. There is no point worrying about ‘if’ or ‘when’ another lockdown will happen; we’ll just have to deal with it and adapt by being more flexible.

Share your story

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic transforms the way optometrists practise, OT is sharing the experiences of optometrists across the UK. If you, or a colleague, is interested in sharing your story, please get in touch by email.

OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly evolving.