Dear student parents and carers,
If you are anything like me, you are probably startled, a little overwhelmed, and probably overloaded with a host of sudden changes that COVID 19 has brought in our lives. However, let us be realistic to our immediate reality and try to find a grip in these changing waters. Because, however good or bad the time seems, it shall pass! I hope to pen down my views and some useful resources on a few areas of concern to us, as students with caring responsibilities. Please bear in mind that you might have come across these information and resources elsewhere, but I am trying to put the relevant ones at one place, with a hope to keep this updated.
Let us get this straight. We are fighting a pandemic and we no longer live in a world, which is normal in any sense. Having said that, continuing our life, work, or research in the same way as before, as if nothing has changed, is insane. I strongly believe we need to accept that our circumstances have changed and be kind to ourselves to allow enough time to adapt to the change. Expecting the same levels of productivity or even more from ourselves could be the key to causing unnecessary stress. Let us take it slow and steady, getting used to the new normalcy, and be prepared for a change that is good when all of this is over! A good read in this regard is linked here.
Finding a rhythm
Under lockdown, we are expected to study and continue research work from home with regular communication with supervisors. Most articles we read on effective working-from-home (while managing children or not) suggest having a schedule and sticking to it (eg. 1, 2). I think once we are in the realm of acceptance, we find ourselves a schedule that fits in naturally, rather than by force. It is essential to find that rhythm if we have to work from home while managing children full-time, but it is important to allow ourselves to be flexible. The challenge is different for every single one of us, depending on what stage of your studies you are in, what is your caring situation with the number and age of children, if you are sharing the responsibility with someone etc. For the same reason, our solutions ought to be different from one another, and we have to figure that out ourselves, eventually.
Managing studies: Taught and Research
Now, suppose you are in a situation, where there is no way you could manage to work from home in a reasonable pace without going insane, well, don’t break your head! UCL gives a range of options to tackle this for different scenarios. If you are a taught student, I feel your pain to prepare for assessments and online submissions, while your eyes have to be always on one or two little ones hopping around, unless you have some form of support. You must be aware that you could now register for Extenuating Circumstances by self-certification, in order to request for deferral or postponement of your deadlines. For Research students, Doctoral school is updating the Response plan regularly with more supportive guidance. It is important to note any anticipated delay in your research on your Research Log, which can be used as evidence later. Another key aspect is the communication with your supervisor(s), to keep things clear between you and them, and to set realistic expectations. Self-funded research students do have an option of taking a break or interruption of studies. If you are funded, it is advised to not interrupt at this point, as the funding arrangements will have to be discussed beforehand (more about funding aspects below). Do check out our Postgraduate students’ officer, Jim’s advice for more details and information relevant to postgraduate students.
That brings us to the obvious concern regarding financial support. Guidance on different funders is being updated regularly here. Students Union has been successful in setting up an Emergency Assistance Grant to address financial crisis of all students under lockdown. UCL Financial Assistance Fund is another source you could approach if you are in dire financial trouble. Although these are not exclusive to student parent and carers, we are eligible to apply like any other student. It is good news that most childcare providers have significantly reduced their fee from April onwards. If your nursery has not informed anything, it is a good idea to check with them. If you still find yourself in real trouble with your bills, please do connect with your supervisor/department for any additional sources and with the Advice service.
The situation is changing very rapidly, but UCL systems are adapting too! It is important to keep ourselves updated regularly for the changing guidance on matters that concern us. Students Union is working hard on various fronts to ensure student voices are heard in every decision made. Bookmark these links for UCL advice and Students Priorities, to not miss any update. It is almost equally important to watch national and international developments during this period regarding COVID 19, just so that we could prepare ourselves with necessary measures, ranging from how much food to stock, what is legally allowed under lockdown etc.
Keeping children entertained
Where do I begin with this! It may seem impossible and tiring to constantly engage and entertain your children, at whatever age they might be, throughout the day, for such a long period. The challenge is on an entirely different level for parents who have school-going children, as they have to manage home schooling and their own studies! However, this is a blessing in disguise to spend quality time with your loved ones, provided you all are in good health. Children understand and adapt to changes much better than we adults do, and I am surprised to see how my 3 year old gives lectures of why we can’t go to play areas and why we should sing and wash hands! However, there are definitely times when things are difficult. We could try and make our days as pleasant as possible. It is very fine to also let them know that we are in a crisis and that it is okay to be bored sometimes. Instead of us taking the pressure of entertaining them completely, I often feel it helps if they are in charge occasionally! There are plenty of resources online for activities we can do at home with children, which can be easily tailored. A few good ones that I personally liked are linked here (1, 2, 3). I am sure we will seek out what works best for us.
Mental and physical health
It cannot be stressed enough under the current scenario, how important it is to look after ourselves, physically and mentally. We are advised to strictly observe physical distance, but nothing stops us from socially connecting deeper on other platforms. This lockdown is probably the best time to stay connected with friends, family, colleagues and neighbours, and for seeking support when in need. UCL students’ support and wellbeing and SU Advice services are available online. We could join social media groups to connect with the student community in general and other specific ones, such as our department group, group for student parents and carers etc. We can make use of the green spaces for family outdoor exercises while maintaining social distancing from others. I suggest checking out online sessions by Project Active, which are honestly more fun with children around!
As long as we are healthy, it is up to us how we perceive the situation and how we communicate. Let us hope and try to make this a positive experience rather than stressful for the ones in our care and for ourselves. Keep calm and stay home! When it is all over, we will be stronger than ever. Finally, remember this always: we are in this together!
Ahsana Parammal Vatteri
Officer for Students with Caring Responsibilities.