Harmony in a Hybrid Semester
At first thought, starting your graduate journey in a Spring semester may seem a bit odd given that most universities and degree programs don’t even offer this alternative entry date. For me, a spring semester matriculation was not only unique, but preferred. After helping my former boss win reelection in a New Jersey state legislative race in November, I was ready to take the next step in my professional development and earn a masters degree at NYU.
After I started to find my groove around Washington Square between classrooms, study spots, and all the restaurants nearby, the pandemic hit. For the remainder of my first semester at NYU, I would be online, texting and Zoom-ing the friends that I had made in class but with no idea when I’d ever return to campus. Finally, we learned later in the summer that NYU would be pursuing a ‘hybrid’ model of learning for Fall 2020 with about 80% of courses completely virtual and the other 20% a blended model mixing both in-person lecturing and asynchronous instruction. So, through this new policy and change to my academic experience, I had to rediscover my groove around a very different Washington Square Park campus.
I’ll walk you through a couple of the steps I take to find harmony during a hybrid semester as a graduate student at NYU. I hope they help give you a sense of what a day is like in the life of a graduate student at NYU during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s still rewarding; we just all need to adapt and make smart decisions.
1. Safe Travels
Living in New York means you take public transit to get around. The subway and busses are the cheapest and most efficient way to navigate the city’s grid and drop you off at Washington Square Park for class. Admittedly, many students were worried earlier in the pandemic to take the subway but data has shown us that taking the subways is far less risky than most people think. After reviewing the facts and mapping out my commute from New Jersey, I ultimately chose to take a ferry (open-air) to downtown Manhattan and then take the R train up to the 8th St – NYU stop, which felt the safest and quickest way for me to get to class.
2. Starting Class
For the Fall 2020 semester, NYU has taken a lot of steps to make sure we’re safe while studying in the classroom. So typically, I’ve waited outside the academic building where I have class and show them my Daily Screener (verifying that I've submitted negative tests recently and I’m not experiencing any symptoms) and ID card to enter the building. From there, I go to my assigned seat, which is at least six feet apart from the next assigned seat. The opportunity to interact with classmates in person and ask your professor questions directly about lecture can’t be beat, and I’m grateful that NYU has found a way to make some space for us to interact safely in person.
This is easily my favorite part of the day because I get to grab a delicious lunch before committing to any further study. And it’s no secret that Greenwich Village (East and West) is home to a wide array of amazing restaurants and food stands. I’m especially excited to hunt for lunch specials at food carts directly in Washington Square so I can sit relax and enjoy some socially distant fresh air.
4. Reserve a Seat
One of the best innovations at NYU since the start of this pandemic has been the release of the Reserve a Seat app on Apple and Android, which is a free tool to reserve study space across all of NYU’s buildings. Again, NYU has done a good job of keeping these spaces clean and distant but also offering a wide variety of study space types. I personally utilize the Graduate Reading Rooms in Bobst Library most often but really enjoyed exploring new buildings around campus such as the Bronfman Center, NYU’s Hillel, to change my scenery while studying.
5. Mindful Meditation
It’s important during the hustle and bustle of graduate school life in America’s biggest city to take a breath and turn your mind off for a bit so you can better focus when you have assignments to complete. One way I do this is a 10 minute silent meditation technique where I focus on nothing else except my breathing. It centers me and clears some mental space for me to prioritize the tasks at hand. If I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed with my workload during the semester, I’ll take advantage of the NYU Wellness Exchange, which offers free workshops and counseling to all students.
6. Support Staff
The most enriching part of my time at NYU thus far has been the staff that works hard to make our graduate experience whole. From the career counselors who I’ve scheduled appointments with to discuss navigating the job market to the support staff at the Kimmel Student Center who have handed out and processed our free COVID-19 tests, these NYU employees remain a valuable resource to me whether I’m on campus or scheduling a conference call. One of the unsung benefits to a hybrid semester has been professors' and staff’s availability, because it’s very easy to schedule a Zoom or conference call without feeling the pressure to meet within a tightly defined office hours window at some building on campus.
I hope these tips I’ve outlined help give you a sense of what a day is like in the life of a graduate student at NYU during the coronavirus pandemic. As I said, it’s still rewarding; we just all need to adapt and make smart decisions during this time.