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Navigating Academic Goal Setting When the World is Extremely Online

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Ottawa chapter.

Her Campus at U Ottawa is located on the unceded, unsurrendered land of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation. I recognize the valuable past and present contributions of all Indigenous peoples to this land, whose presence here reaches back to time immemorial.

The “traditional academic experience” has been complicated over the last few years. As someone who spent the majority of her undergraduate degree watching Zoom lectures, I’ve had a lot of time to figure out how to make the most of online school. So if you’re overwhelmed and confused about how to adapt to a post-lockdown world, don’t worry! Here are a few tips on how to set and reach your academic goals during this transitional period between nonstop lockdowns and the return to in-person life.

Establishing relationships with your professors

Why are these relationships useful?

There are a few reasons to establish professional relationships with your professors. The most obvious reason is that you’ll likely need letters of recommendation from your professors in the future, especially if you’re applying to grad school. However, establishing professional relationships with your professors can be beneficial for more than just a reference. Faculty members are often well-connected and willing to help you out! For example, I know people who’ve landed research opportunities simply because their professors referred them to labs with openings. Personally, I like to contact my former professors for advice every so often, and it always proves to be useful!

How to talk to your professor online

In the age of appointment-only office hours, it can be difficult to find the time or motivation to speak to your professors. After all, it can be intimidating to email a professor for a one-on-one appointment, particularly if you’ve never spoken to them before! Before the pandemic, it was easy to stay after class and ask whatever questions you had. During the pandemic, these convenient opportunities to ask questions disappeared. Even now, many classes are still hybrid or online only. But if you’re in an online class and considering forgoing contact with your professor out of convenience, don’t! Participating in class, or even turning on your camera, is a good way to start. Once you’re feeling more comfortable, you can branch out to emailing with questions or scheduling a quick appointment.

Something I’ve noticed in my own experience is that I tend to get stressed out waiting for my professors to email me back. I deal with this by reminding myself that they’re busy and giving myself a predetermined date to follow up with a second email. If the thought of having to write a follow-up email stresses you out, don’t worry! I can count how many of them I’ve had to send in my entire academic career on one hand.

Finding research opportunities

Why should you get involved with research?

If you’re aiming for med school, grad school, or another competitive professional field, research experience will strengthen your application. Research also gives you first-hand experience working in your field of interest. Personally, my experience confirmed how much I wanted to become a researcher in my field of study.

Getting involved with research will also give you a way to meet tons of new people. If you’re doing research in a big lab, you’ll get to meet other students whose interests may align with your own. If you end up working one-on-one with your professor on a smaller project, you’ll be able to establish a close professional relationship. No matter where you end up, there are advantages to every research program!

How to find research opportunities online

Following my point on convenient opportunities to talk to your professors disappearing during the pandemic, this also applies to finding research opportunities. If you don’t have any professors you can ask in person, email is the next best way to ask. Don’t be shy about cold-emailing professors, many of them expect to receive these messages! As long as you have a genuine interest in their research (i.e., don’t send the same email to 50 different professors), you’ll find somewhere that you fit.

There are also many research scholarships available to U Ottawa students that you could consider applying for. For example, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program will give you a small monetary grant for completing a 75-hour research project with an eligible U Ottawa professor supervising your work.

Maintaining contact with previous connections

Why should you keep in contact with people from your past?

Keeping in contact with every single person you meet is impossible, I know. When I say keeping in contact, I’m not saying you need to talk every day! But it’s good to check in with people every so often, especially if you know you’ll need to contact them again someday to ask for something (like a reference, for example).

While I was applying for grad school over the past few months, I was happy that I had kept in contact with people from my past. In my situation, one of my favourite professors gave me tips and advice for grad school, my high school English teacher proofread part of my application, and one of my teachers from elementary school even reached out for moral support and encouragement. Just because you don’t speak to someone regularly doesn’t mean they don’t care about your life! So next time you’re on the fence about checking in with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, consider that they might be happy to hear from you.

Keeping in contact online

Although online learning has its drawbacks, I think it actually made it easier to communicate with people from your past. Sure, you’re probably less likely to run into your childhood soccer coach at the grocery store. But nowadays, using email and other forms of online communication (social media, SMS, etc.) has become increasingly common. So you don’t have to be scared that your email will come off as off-putting—everyone is used to it!

Figuring out how to achieve your academic goals is difficult enough as it is without having to do it online. As the world slowly recovers from the pandemic, give yourself time to adapt! What’s most important is that you recognize that some things are out of your control. All you can do is make the most of your particular situation.