Adapting During COVID-19: Two Seniors Share Their Experiences

April 10, 2020
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused all of us to make adjustments in our daily lives. To remain connected during this time of social distancing, we’re sharing interviews from members of the Texas Biomedical Engineering community. Two biomedical engineering students, Susana Simmonds and James Choi, opened up about how they’re adapting and what is helping them as they wrap up their last semester at UT Austin.

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Susana Simmonds took a trip to the Grand Canyon last year, and stopped to pose along the Sandia Crest in New Mexico.  

What have you noticed about yourself?

Change has been a huge constant. I was supposed to go to Seattle on March 11th, the Wednesday before spring break for graduate school recruitment at University of Washington (UW). They cancelled the recruitment 3 or 4 days before I was supposed to leave and moved it to a virtual event. The plans for commencement changed. There’s a lot of change and adapting every day.

How was virtual recruitment?

I accepted and will be attending UW in the fall. I visited three other schools in person: University of Michigan, University of California San Diego, and Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech recruitment was right before UW, so I found out it was cancelled while I was at Georgia Tech. Luckily I spent time at UW last summer for an REU, so I knew the campus and the city. UW was the gold standard for me, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to confirm that feeling through the virtual visit. But, even though the visits and presentations were through Zoom, it did confirm that UW was the right place for me. They did a good job of showing off the city and giving lab tours through video. I really like using Zoom for recruitment, but also, now I’m talking with high school friends. We got together recently to play games like Jack Box.

How has this impacted your senior year?

I’m pretty bummed about not seeing classmates around. It's not even people I talked to necessarily, but knowing they were around. I’m sad about graduation and the reception and had been looking forward to that. I had been to some of the receptions in the past, and it was fun to see parents in the same room with professors. Not knowing if or when we’ll get to walk through graduation after having been through 4 or 5 years of working toward this degree is disappointing, but it is what it is, and maybe there will be a celebration later.

Are you doing anything to stay positive?

I go on walks most afternoons, as the sun is setting, and the weather is nice. It’s nice to see people on their porches and smell flowers and see trees. I also have a cat named Blanche, and she’s really funny and good company.

What adjustments have you made?

I can wake up later, because I don’t have to worry about commuting. I was used to doing homework on campus. And it’s been an adjustment to study and do homework at home rather than in the BME Building. And there’s been a lot of eating. When I was on campus all day, my friends and I referred to it as hunting and gathering because we’d need to figure out what we were doing for lunch. And now I’m at home, so I can and will cook.

Are you baking? And if so, what’s something delicious you’ve made.

We’ve done a lot of baking and cooking. We had plain yellow cake mix, and I didn’t know how to frost it, so I bought some dulce de leche from Fiesta and made two layers of cake with the dulce de leche in the middle and top, and it’s really rich and sweet and awesome. I’m probably about to go have a piece.

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James Choi is using this time to escape through Netflix. He's currently watching Community, and the 90s crime drama Twin Peaks.

What have you noticed in the past few weeks?

Amongst all the uncertainty and what seems like an abundance of negativity given the current situation, there also seems to be an increase in compassion, stories of helping those in need, and an overall sense of community from all across the world. From people showing small acts of kindness to their nearby neighbor to countries donating protective supplies to other countries for COVID-19 relief, I've noticed how many different individuals and communities are going out of their way to support and help each other.

What adjustments have you had to make?

I've had to find different ways to feel motivated to accomplish the things I would otherwise be doing. I know for many, the environment they're physically in has a huge influence on their motivation, work ethic, and the similar. Being quarantined all day at home for multiple consecutive days and weeks can have a significant impact on people's mental health, motivation, lifestyle, and more. Personally, I've had to find different ways to be motivated and stay focused on my school work, despite the fact that I'm learning everything virtually through a computer screen and stuck in the same location nearly all day. It's also been hard to maintain a consistent daily routine when you're in one location, so it's been a big mental shift for sure.

What's helping you stay positive?

I've always been a glass-half-full type of person. But in unexpected and unique situations like this, it's obviously been more difficult to remain positive and optimistic. I've been trying to look at the silver lining of different situations and trying to maintain a positive outlook when looking into the future. I try to have a constant reminder to myself that with a bad, always comes a good. Focusing on the little things in life and things that we often take for granted, it has helped me remain positive. Other than that, I try to engage in daily exercise in some form of way, read books I've meant to read for a while, watch all the TV shows and movies I can, and anything that'll keep me engaged.

What impact has this had on your work?

For my school work and especially for group projects, such as senior design, we have been trying to think outside the box in finishing our project in ways we can online. We have substituted all of our in-person experiments to be online simulations, for example. It's been difficult but interesting to meet through Zoom and collaborate virtually in ways that will enable us to finish our project effectively. I definitely think in-person communication has ton of benefits that we often take for granted!