How Starting Grad School During a Pandemic Taught Me Essential Soft Skills

by Eleanor 

I’m an intern attending graduate school. Over the past year we have all witnessed the switch from in-person classes to online learning. Regular classrooms were traded in for zoom sessions, in person communication fell away to emails and online meetings, and those starting a new stage of their academic careers did so in unexpected and unprecedented ways. I was one of those students. I began my first year of graduate school, moved to a new city, and lived by myself in a pandemic. 

Learning how to navigate a new city and school presents many challenges on its own, adding to that the inability to meet your new classmates and teachers in-person propels these challenges to another level. So, what do you do? You keep moving forward. Instead of dwelling on what I was missing out on, I decided to focus on what I had. It was hard missing out on my college graduation. Sometimes it feels as though I never graduated, since I never had a formal ceremony to commence it. 

Leaving school so suddenly was hard for many reasons. My fellow students and I were all left in limbo as to when or if we might see each other again, inside or outside of classes. But, in a way I was lucky I knew my next step. I had graduate school to focus on and could put my energy into deciding where to go and what I would do once I got there, instead of dwelling on all the senior year moments I had missed out on. However, deciding on a graduate school presented its own challenges. I was faced with choosing where to move, where to go to school, and what type of program I wanted to join without visiting the schools, seeing the cities, or meeting any of the staff. 

Starting Graduate School Remotely: Overcoming Challenges and Learning New Life Skills

At times it almost seemed too daunting, I wondered if I should take a gap year, or defer my spot for a year to give myself more time to make a decision and evaluate my options. In these unprecedented times, I had to be resilient and self- aware in order to make decisions about my next step in my academic career. Ultimately, I decided not to delay graduate school, and I have not regretted it since. 

Making the move to a new city and starting at a new school was intimidating, but it came with so many unexpected benefits. I had a great apartment in a great neighborhood, I was starting an exciting new chapter of my academic career, and I was learning how to communicate in new ways. While starting grad school completely online and isolated was difficult, I found these challenges presented me with the opportunity to learn new life skills and communicate with people in new ways. 

How Resilience, Communication, and Self-Awareness Helped Me Thrive in Online Graduate School

Throughout my first year, resilience, communication, and self-awareness were key soft skills that I relied on. I had to be resilient both in my classes, and in my everyday life. I can tell you that zoom fatigue is real, and it hit me hard during my second semester. The last thing I wanted to do was log on, sit at my desk, and stare at the computer for hours a day. But, I had to. Taking breaks, not forcing myself to do work when I felt burnt out, and reaching out to my classmates and friends were vital to maintaining my resilience. 

One of the many lessons I took away from this past year is the importance of balancing self-care with socializing. While I was lucky enough to connect with my classmates (even in person sometimes!) I also became more self aware of my own needs and habits. Figuring out who, how, and when I needed to communicate was an important step in both my personal and professional development. 

Communication has never been as important to me as it was throughout this last year. Without developing stronger communication skills to build a support system in my new environment, it would have been much harder to make it through the year. While I am looking forward to and hopeful for a return to in-person classes, I go forward with the knowledge that I am more well equipped with the soft skills and knowledge on how to handle a remote position, work from home, or return to online classes due to the skills I have honed and strengthened throughout the past year. 


I am excited to start the next steps in my academic career. I am looking forward to discovering new skills and working with my classmates and professors (in person hopefully!) during this upcoming year. While my first year was unconventional, it has prepared me, personally and professionally, better than I had hoped for the next few years, and for my future career. The adaptability, resilience, and positive mindset I developed are skills I will rely on wherever these next steps lead me. 

Photo by Anastasiya Gepp from Pexels 
Scroll to Top