“Professors be like I know these are troubling times and then be the trouble during the times” – unknown wise woman, Twitter, circa 2020.
I have an unshakeable feeling that our professors think we are still living in that phase at home when our families treat us like royalty because they’re seeing us after so long. In reality, the exasperation in the tchs hurled our way increases every time we open the fridge.
In a normal semester, the workload is almost nonexistent for the first month, increases linearly in the second month, exponentially in the third, and dies out in the fourth. Please note that you did not have to keep track of class timings, deadlines and vital course information because you lived with the students. Now in the hell semesters, you either keep track or any purpose left of your life gets lost in WhatsApp and smail spam. That being said, our workload depends on how aware we are of the deadlines and course requirements that are to be met. In the case that we are maximally aware, the workload seems to increase at 2x (or 4x, if you have a very busy schedule of lying around in different parts of the house).
The faster you get the work done, the faster more work gets catapulted at you. The slower you get the work done, the farther away your degree looks to you.
The first month of the semester
The sheer lack of an unspoken schedule blurs the lines between attending classes, completing assignments, relaxing, eating, and even sleeping. When I am logging into a live google meet link, the professor’s voice is not the only thing my senses are picking up. There’s YouTube on one tab and Twitter on another.
Do you know how you walk into a room and cannot remember the reason you walked in? Yes, so, seven more tabs I cannot remember the point of; a word document with a half-completed shoddy assignment, and another word document that randomly opened on its own; Instagram reels clanking on my phone; a cozy spring mattress underneath- which I woke up on and decided to never leave; Netflix on the tv beyond my laptop, my brother listening to Divine to my right, my mother on a phone call to my left and utter numbness at the back of my head.
Compounding this is the fact that I can always listen to the exact same words the professor is saying whenever I want. It is convincing enough to keep me from making notes but not essential enough to revert to when I need to understand something better.
While this instant and unlimited access to said recordings is supposed to make things more convenient for me, it is going to do me dirty and make things harder instead. How? Well, guess who will be entering endsem week as smart as an apple seed?
Linear increase in workload
With regards to the knowledge of an apple seed, again, I am not entirely sure if we have devolved as much as our assessments have evolved. Maybe it’s not us because the questions surely seem to be set so hard that we will not have time to discuss them or so customized that we cannot discuss them even if we had the time to. I understand that it is necessary to ensure that students do not make it past semesters without learning or investing any effort. But these assessments effectively pull students further apart from each other by blocking solid teamwork, ideational collaboration and the only thing peers interact about anymore because nothing new has happened in life for the past 11 months. (Teamwork and ideational collaboration doth not mean cheating, copying or duplicating but discussing and exchanging ideas about how an assignment, sayeth a term paper, can be approached).
Exponential increase in workload
Maybe our lives are not as hard as the actual adults’ (it definitely is) but how are we supposed to keep up with six or seven courses when we cannot keep up with what the date is?
Sometimes I catch myself wondering wow, I could not have managed all this course load and PoR work had we been in insti because I am typing away on my laptop in the same place, same room, same spot, all day every day. There can be no way I could slip in some time for sports, a drink or even just commute. Sometimes I think is this the amount of workload seniors had to manage when they were getting through this semester? No way, because I simply cannot get work done despite having nothing else to do.
But other times, I feel it is probably because of the lack of chances to extinguish the fire in our brains that makes us increasingly ineffective at home. Maybe if we had our friends around to regularly hang out with, a schedule to regularly work some sweat out, or an Usha two minutes away to get a quick drink and get lost in a conversation with a friend or a senior we run into there- then maybe, just maybe, if we had things to do apart from staring at our screens trying to get work done – the work that we imagine our peers efficiently clicking at – it wouldn’t be as draining.
Sitting at home with unfettered access to the internet may seem to make academics convenient but being perpetually stuck in one spot with incessant notifications of reminders, deadlines and course work does not, to say the least. Not to mention the struggle of managing headaches, if not waning eyesight, and PDFs.
At this point, we are unmistakable machines churning out assignment after assignment in the hope that peace is just another couple of submissions away, only to be shoved back into the abyss with another fresh round.
Workload fetters out (or you stop caring)
If not-doing the one thing I’m supposed to be doing equalled to relaxing, I would not have really cared for an entire article about this. However, not getting the work done but constantly thinking about all the work that needs to be done while coming up with convincing arguments for why the work cannot be done at the moment is the age-old problem that has intensified because of the blurred lines.
The result is a ball of passive stress squinting at the laptop screen trying to develop ways BoJack could stop being miserable and get his life together. Or is it the other way round?
When you look at it closely, our journey through an online semester resembles the different stages of burnout. It begins with the honeymoon phase, aka the first month of the semester, where we pretend that the semester has not actually begun, meaning we can just login to classes and put them on mute. We stay on top of assignments, if we are given any, and manage to clock in some hours of relaxation. The honeymoon phase gives way to the onset of stress, where we realise that workload is beginning to pile up and try to convince ourselves that we are capable enough but just not motivated enough. Then comes chronic stress, where we struggle to cope with deadlines and quality submissions, despite technically having time to sit down and get it over with. And in the end comes burnout, where we give up trying to do better and settle for a possibly lesser grade.
Stress is not new for college students, but online semesters have managed to take it to a whole new level. Feeling miserable about academics may not be ideal but, for now, it is okay. Instead of piling up all the work towards the deadline, we’ll try to do small bits of it every day and see where it takes us. To quote the show I binge-watched in my last honeymoon phase:
“It gets easier.
Every day it gets a little easier.
But you have to do it every day.
That’s the hard part.
But it does get easier.”
Designs by Shaurya Rawat
Edited by Anna Dominic
Disclaimer: The above article is an op-ed. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of T5E.