A Sheffield student tells her experience.

‘I am so glad I am not in their position’, was perhaps the phrase I uttered most between the months of May to mid-July 2020 as I compared my plans for the upcoming academic year to many of my friends. I was feeling very fortunate to have secured a Masters in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield, where I would have the opportunity to build on what I had learnt in my undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature. I was extremely looking forward to studying what I love at postgraduate level, something obvious to anyone who was unfortunate enough to converse with me. 

Unfortunately, it seems I jinxed myself. Just days after I received my University results I was informed that my Masters had been suspended for the 2020-21 academic year. After three years studying at the University where I built strong rapports with course mates and lecturers within the English department, it was difficult to be told such upsetting news by an impersonal email. This was a huge shock to myself and my fellow course mates who were also due to study the course, particularly as I was so excited to go back to studying a subject I am passionate about whilst working with lecturers that specialise in the topics and theories that intrigued me the most.

Nonetheless, I do understand that it was not feasible for the English Language and Linguistics Masters to go ahead. The University was only able to employ limited staff to teach the course, and therefore could only supply a limited selection of modules which would have largely hindered my enjoyment of the course.

Current SU Education Officer, Ellie Lynas, said that “having your plans to study ruled out for the year is frustrating in any circumstance, to have it happen this year is even more so. At the very least, the University needs to be advising these students on an individual basis and providing suitable alternatives should they wish to take them. This won’t resolve all the problems of course, and whilst this will be chalked up as another casualty of 2020, the University should still ensure these students are properly supported in revising their plans for the year.” 

This abrupt change completely disrupted my plans for this academic year. In fact, it meant I had no plans at all. For a few weeks I was left feeling rootless all the while being reminded that I had an empty house in Sheffield that I had to pay for but no income and no student loan. It felt soul-destroying to have to relay the same string of words explaining that I wouldn’t be studying my Masters over and over again to kind friends and family members who were interested in updates about my course.

The suspension of my Masters this year means that as I am no longer a student and, regrettably, I cannot fulfill my role of Head of News for Forge Press at the University. This was another change that I had to process and adapt to alongside the loss of my Masters. I thoroughly enjoyed working for Forge last year and I was looking forward to having the opportunity to work with them again this year.

Soon after I heard this news, I spent my time creating a colourful mind map to brainstorm the different routes that I could take for this year. My options included studying an online Masters course, studying at a course at a University close to Sheffield (so that I could commute between Sheffield and this University whilst living in my house), or having a break from education for a year. Although the University was helpful by offering students alternative Masters courses for me to switch onto, I decided that I did not want to compromise and study a different course that was not as well-fitted for me as my original Masters. I decided to opt for perhaps the most challenging option on my mind map: searching for a job in this current climate.

“If you’re a University of Sheffield graduate and you’re going to look for work this year instead, you can still receive support and guidance from the University’s Careers Service, so be sure to take full advantage of that. Students affected by these course cancellations can also speak to an advisor at the SU’s Student Advice Centre – visit su.sheffield.ac.uk/advice-and-support,” advised Ms Lynas.

Amber O’Connor was due to study a Masters in Magazine Journalism in this academic year, however her course was entirely cancelled. The University offered her a place on an alternative Masters within the Journalism department instead, which she accepted. “I am lucky that the new course includes several of the same modules as the course I originally applied to, and so I felt happy to accept the offer,” she said.

“Studying a Masters is the most straightforward way for me to gain the training and professional accreditation I will need to pursue the career path I am interested in, and without the Alumni discount that the University offers to its continuing students, I wouldn’t be able to afford a Masters.”

Amber O’Connor’s Masters degree was entirely cancelled

Understandably, she describes finding out that her Masters was cancelled as “a shock. It was just two months before I was expected to begin classes. I had met the course leader, I’d received my course offer, subject to achieving certain grades, and I’d paid the deposit for my student house. I didn’t know courses could even be cancelled, pandemic or not.

“The University did apologise and explained that these changes were the result of the changes that would need to be made to provide safe learning environments; although I was left confused as to why one of my courses would run again in the future whilst the other, my preferred choice, was entirely cancelled,” she said. “I should highlight that I was offered a point of contact within the department should I wish to ask any questions, but I didn’t feel the need to seek answers that wouldn’t change my situation.”

Similarly to my sentiments, Amber says, “I am sad because I’ll never have the chance to study a course that I thought was perfect for me”. Though in her circumstances, she is “thankful to still have the chance to study a Masters, and to stay at Sheffield University.

“Whilst I’m still upset at the decision the University had to make, my department did handle this difficult event well. My academic year is going to be different to the one I expected to have for many reasons, but I’m thankful that my plans were changed rather than simply cancelled.”

This upcoming academic year is undoubtedly due to be entirely different for everyone for varied and individual circumstances. I am looking forward to studying English Language and Linguistics in the future. 

In the meantime, I am looking for a job along with the rest of the world. Ironically, I find myself amongst those friends whose position I had previously said I was “so glad” to not be in. It’s a very frustrating climate to find myself in, but it has forced me to be resilient.

Featured photo created by freepik

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