Isabel Maddocks, Interviewed by Mia Morales
Today, I'm going to be interviewing Isabel Maddocks for the Contextualizing COVID-19 project at the University of Guelph. If you could quickly introduce yourself, Isabel, and your program of study.
Thank you, Mia. I'm a second-year master's student in the Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics Department, specifically studying experimental economics.
So what year were you in and what were you studying when the pandemic was declared In March of 2020?
I was in third year and I was studying environmental economics and policy, which is part of the Environmental Sciences program.
How would you say that affected any extracurriculars you were involved in on campus if you were involved in any?
I believe I was only involved in a faith study with the Catholic community on campus, and we went on Zoom.
Okay. Were you working at the time?
No, I was just focusing on school.
Where were you living during the pandemic?
I was living in Guelph, but off campus. That was before the pandemic started and in the slightly later days, But for summer and spring of 2020, I was at home with my family.
How did you think the initial shutdown affected these things? Did it affect your study in any way or where you lived?
Well, the initial shutdown did cause me to go back home and live with my family. And at first, everything felt kind of disorganized. For one of my classes, our midterm was cancelled that we had scheduled for the Monday after school was shut down. So I think that was probably like the March 16th or something. Our second midterm was cancelled. My classes went on Zoom or were simply asynchronous, and it became kind of difficult to hold myself accountable and really get the most out of my classes.
That's fair. I think we've all been there. Did you end up returning to school at any time during 2020 or 2021?
Yes, I returned to school earlier than I would have if there hadn't been a pandemic, because I figured that since I wouldn't be a camp counsellor that summer, I should just do summer school.
So that, I guess, follows the next question of what did you do in the summer of 2020?
So I took three courses and obviously all online and I think they were all asynchronous. And on top of that, later on that summer, I worked as a student at Reach Facilitator with the University of Guelph, where I pretty much just called students who were entering first year and told them about certain programs we have to help students out.
How did you find online learning at the beginning?
At first, I thought it would be really convenient because I wouldn't have to commute to school, but it proved to be very difficult because I got bad zoom fatigue. And I really like interacting with people and I find that helps me learn. So it was difficult to focus but doable in the short term.
Do you think that changed over time? Like, do you think maybe you found better ways to manage your time or you got more accustomed.
To an extent. But I think because of the way I learn and I guess my preference is for interacting with people, I never got to a point where I would choose online learning over in-person learning.
Did you encounter any difficulties with any technology or maybe finding resources online for your courses?
My main difficulty was just the zoom fatigue, because I find it still so difficult to be on multiple Zoom calls or spend a lot of time on Zoom calls. So that was my main difficulty. I think I was able to find all the resources I needed online. And also there's Amazon, so you could buy textbooks through there.
That's fair. Do you think you're adjusting well to being a student post-quarantine?
Now? Yes. At first, no. And I can elaborate on that a bit. When we first went back to in-person, I felt super anxious being around people. Like, I remember sitting in class thinking, I hope my mask is enough. Oh, my gosh. Someone coughed. Oh, no.
Did you find it hard to adjust to the new workload at all?
My biggest issue with adjusting was the change in routine. So I think the workload was fine and being in person did help me learn better and be more efficient because talking to people helps me remember material better. But just, I don't know, the change in routine kind of brought me out of my comfort zone.
Do you think the pandemic and being in online learning affected your academic process at all?
Yes, maybe in strange ways. I mean, it doesn't really look like my grades got a whole lot worse. But they had been on the path to getting better than they were. And I kind of plateaued. Also. The level of anxiety I felt from the situation of going into lockdown, going out of lockdown, back into lockdown, took a toll on me and affected my grades.
So you were left in a sense that you didn't really know what was going on?
Do you think it affected your career goals at all?
Ok, this one's kind of complicated. Before the pandemic, I had two possible career goals either becoming a high school teacher or becoming a professor because I love teaching, but I also like research. So in that way, I don't think it really affected my career goals because I was still able to go to school and because of the economy and how it looks now. Staying in school was a good idea, so maybe it did affect it, but positively like it didn't change my path. Also, this summer of 2021, I got a job with Farm Credit Canada that I wouldn't have otherwise taken because if it hadn't been remote, I would have had to move to Regina, and I really didn't want to do that.
So the pandemic did affect a little bit of your working life.
But positively, if that makes any sense.
What do you think was the most challenging aspect of the pandemic for you?
I think I have a good note on this one. There we go. Social isolation and anxiety. So. Those two together were like, I want to say a match made in hell. But I also don't want to swear. But that's the best way I can describe it. Kind of a vicious cycle. Like I didn't want to feel isolated and that had negative effects on my mood and my productivity. But then trying to see people made me feel anxious because I was constantly worried about catching COVID from them. So that was definitely the most challenging part of the pandemic for me. Like, economically, I was fine. I got to work a remote job and live at home and not pay rent. But emotionally it took a toll.
So it was the effects of social isolation.
Do you think there were any aspects of pandemic life that were good for you?
Yes. In the early days of the pandemic, my sister and I would eat breakfast every morning together and watch some silly YouTube videos, and we bonded, which is really nice. I also got to spend more time with my last dog who we had to put down. It was nice to be able to be at home more. And then we got another dog and I could spend lots of time with her. So being at home had its perks and I could spend time with family and we bonded, even though it was difficult being together all the time.
Do you believe that there was any positive aspects maybe in your studying or maybe on campus life or in any university resources?
I hadn't really thought much about campus life, but I did join the Environmental Sciences Student executive in fourth year and I don't know if I would have done that if it hadn't been online. It made it a lot easier to balance taking on something else. And we still ran events. So that was definitely a plus in terms of my studies. It was nice taking three courses over the summer, even though I didn't enjoy taking online classes as much as I would have enjoyed taking in-person classes because it helps me do better in fourth year because I had a lighter workload.
Ok. How do you feel about returning to in-person classes?
Initially, I was really excited but really anxious. Now that we're in kind of a stable situation and I've worked on my anxiety with a counsellor. I feel good.
Do you think that you also feel happy about returning to your in-person activities? I know you said you're in a few clubs.
Oh, yes. So at first, it was difficult for me returning to in-person activities because I was worried about catching COVID. Last fall, I was in the choir, but again, I was worried about catching COVID and I was fairly overwhelmed from the lockdown, back in person, lockdown back in person situation. But now I'm on women and agg and that's been extremely positive for me. And I've become more involved with the Aggies and it's been awesome.
What was your experience with the Omicron outbreak that happened in December, in January of 2021 to 2022?
I have a good note on this. My December was a whirlwind. I was exposed to COVID like before I went home for Christmas break and I almost had to miss Christmas, but I didn't. I was negative and at first the current outbreak was kind of fun because we weren't back in person yet and my classes were fairly laid back about online learning and how we dealt with it and how the Zoom classes kind of went. And I still had a small bubble of people who I got to see, which is great. But then when we went back in person, I was quite worried about catching COVID and I was just not ready for the transition back.
Do you think there's any way maybe your professors could have handled online classes better?
Oh. See, I think it varies from individual to individual, but I would have appreciated shorter zoom classes, not like less time overall, but maybe more breaks or something like that. I mean, I should have probably read up on ways to tackle Zoom fatigue and asked for some kind of accommodation, but I think that would have been helpful.
I think we were all kind of thrown out there. You can't really blame yourself for your zoom fatigue. And I think maybe there's ways the university could have maybe supported you better. Do you believe that the University of Guelph had enough support systems for students during the COVID-19 pandemic?
This was kind of a complicated question for me. I think yes and no. I don't think the students received enough support, but I'm not sure the university was responsible for giving it to them. And I think it's difficult to really target your support and outreach because often times the people who need to be supported aren't going to be taking the initiative to receive the support, because when you're in a tough time, it's kind of hard to pull yourself out of it. But then it's also difficult for the university to ensure that people are supported because you can't really force someone to go to a Zoom webinar on dealing with anxiety in the pandemic or something like that.
So are there any changes you would have made to maybe your online learning or support systems?
I think I would have encouraged going to peer-to-peer counselling or even just counselling at the link in J. T. Powell or through student health services because that's really helpful and I think everyone could have used that. Then again, you can't force students to do that. But I think if that could have been encouraged and if the university could have increased their capacity there, that would have been incredibly helpful.
Would you have any advice for a future student maybe going through a pandemic?
Oh, that's a really good question. I. I would say, first of all, just try and keep a positive attitude, but not like toxic positivity. I mean, don't dwell on the negatives and take care of your mental health and then other things like equip yourself with some knowledge that will help you look up. Tips for getting around Zoom Fatigue. Find ways to stay connected with people in a safe way. And go to counsellingl.
How do you think COVID-19 might have impacted your program differently? I'm not sure if you have labs or if you have any sort of maybe group projects.
Well, we do have a capstone course in fourth year. It holds two courses, but one in fall semester, and one second semester. And it's a big group project. And I think I don't know if my group had to because we didn't really need to do much in person, but most groups had to fill out a research management plan and that was just a lot of extra work.
Did you find it hard to contact your professors or classmates during this time?
Um, no. Except in summer school, when I was in a group project that wasn't a required course for my major, but it was a restricted elective and one person in the group was just MIA and didn't contact us at all. And then someone else dropped the course.
So it's had good long-term effects on your life? So do you think you've had to adapt or made any changes long term?
Yes. I've learned how to deal with and live with anxiety in a healthy way where I can really thrive. And I think I wouldn't have necessarily done that if I hadn't been put in a situation of such high anxiety.
Do you think it taught you how to deal with social isolation a little bit better? You might have learned a little bit more about yourself having to spend so much time alone.
Yes and no. I think I dealt with it very poorly at the start of the pandemic, and it really made me take or stop taking being around people for granted. But it did, help me become accustomed to being alone. So I don't necessarily fear having no plans on a weekend or something like that because I am much more comfortable being alone. But I'd say it mostly made me grateful for being able to be around other people.
How do you think the pandemic affected your mental health?
Very negatively in the short run and very positively in the long run. Initially, the social isolation had major negative effects on my mood and then my productivity and also my anxiety. By around this time last year, I was so overwhelmed I couldn't function at the level I've been functioning at previously or functioning at now. But, In the long run. It's really helped me because if I like I said earlier, if I hadn't reached that low point, I don't think I would have been forced to make a change and take it as seriously as I have. So now I think I'm doing better than I was before the pandemic. But I do think, I have a unique situation. Not everyone is, as I don't know, as lucky as I am because I wasn't affected by it really economically. Like I didn't necessarily lose my job. I chose not to be a camp counsellor. So I don't know. I think it was mostly internal. So you can deal with internal issues because they're in your control.
So you feel fortunate compared to maybe friends or family?
We talked a lot about your long-term effects as a student and as an individual. But what do you think are some long-term effects that it might have had on the university or maybe on society?
On long-term effects on the university, I'd assume would be the expectation that classes will be offered on-line and in person, which I think is fairly beneficial. I know UofT offered remote learning before the pandemic. And I have a friend who was homeschooled until university and really liked the on-line option. So I think that that is better for a lot of people. So there's a benefit, I guess, on the consumer side, because I'm not sure all profs are keen on making courses available in a hybrid format. I think there's also now more emphasis on student mental health than there was before. And they're not to say there wasn't enough before. There was a lot of emphasis on student mental health before, but now it's kind of become more of a focus. And I think now universities realize that they need to have certain procedures in place or be ready for unprecedented situations, which is difficult because how can you predict something that's unpredictable? But I think there's been a push. To try and be ready for absurd situations.
Do you think you'll take any on-line classes in the future?
I don't think so because I'm looking to a PhD and I don't think those courses will be offered on-line. I think the expectation will be that we'll move back in person because, from my understanding, a lot of departments are. Being pushed to go back in person. And if I had the opportunity to take an on-line course, I wouldn't unless it was completely necessary.
Do you feel more prepared for maybe a future pandemic or similar situation?
Yes, I hope we won't have one, but I think now. I don't know. I'm in a better place. I have my bubble, which is my family. We've gotten closer. It's like a. It's like gold being tested in fire. We had some hard times, but we're all the better for it. I'm more comfortable being alone. I know. I know my limits on Zoom and with social isolation and what I need to do and what I can do safely to. Kind of I auto take care of myself.
So essentially, maybe the pandemic helped you grow into yourself a little bit more or maybe be a little more confident. I know that you said that you were a bit cautious when it came to COVID. Do you think that the university did enough to enforce maybe COVID standards and keep people safe?
At times, yes. But not this time. Like last fall semester exam season. I don't think the university did enough because of the Omnicron outbreak. And my sister actually wrote an exam with a bunch of people coughing and felt a little on edge and then got an email saying that someone who was in the room tested positive for COVID. And I think they urged everyone to get tested. So I think exams should have been put on-line and I have some opinions about masking or mask mandates, like in the summer. I don't think we needed them. I can't remember when it got lifted, but I think spring/summer would have been the time to lift the mandate because there aren't that many people there. But come fall maybe it would have been a good decision to have a mask mandate or a mask mandate in some places because. I don't know. Everyone seems to have a cough now.
Do you think that maybe there should still be a mask mandate in larger classrooms or smaller spaces?
Yes, I think if there are, there's a certain number of people in class. Everyone should be masking just because of the odds of catching COVID. And I don't know the strain on the health care system too.
Do you think your peers reacted to the pandemic in a way that you found favourable?
Some did. I don't think anyone was as cautious as me, who I was close with or in contact with at the time. So I did feel isolated, not just physically, but emotionally, because I felt I didn't feel the same sense of solidarity that I did with my family members. So I think they acted in a way that was permissible, for lack of a better word, but not necessarily favorable for me because I felt like I was I was doing the most and everyone was doing exactly what we had to or maybe a little less.
Do you think campus life has returned to normalcy?
I think we're getting there. Since we had to put everything on hold. I think it is difficult to run events because everyone's a little bit out of practice. Like with Women and Agriculture, we're hosting our second annual networking night and. I don't know. Going back in person and running an event is so strange in this time because we're really not used to it. We don't have recent experience and. It feels like. I don't know. Everyone's a bit rusty.
That's fair. It takes a very, very long time to plan an event that has to be very, very advanced. Do you know if that's changed because of COVID 19 or was it maybe always very hard to plan?
I think well, it's always been hard to plan events, but since COVID, there have been more technical difficulties in those sorts of things and logistical issues, especially with any requirements for how many people are allowed to be there and that sort of thing. And everyone, everyone seems to be out of practice. Like the events, I've been to since COVID have been good. But like the hosts or the MCs have apologized for the events not being seamless because they're just getting back into the swing of things.
Is it harder to find a space to host these events?
I'm not really sure because I haven't had that much experience securing spaces before or after the pandemic.
That's fair. That's okay. Do you what resources are tools that you maybe find helpful to stay informed or educated about COVID-19 during the pandemic?
Well, I guess the CDC website was pretty good. I, to my own detriment, checked daily case counts in Ontario just on Google every single day. As soon as they came out, which I kept me informed, but at a cost.
Did the university provide you with any sort of resources for anything like that?
There may have been some. Course, I think I took an on-line course on courselink and it wasn't like a course course it was like a little training on safe COVID practices. And I actually found that all the helpful because they talked about where you should sit in a car if you're driving with someone outside of your bubble. And if I took an Uber, I would sit in the back seat not directly behind them with the window cracked open. And I think that helped.
How did you deal with misinformation or did you find there was a lot of instances of misinformation? Maybe on social media or in the news or among your peers?
I just got annoyed. I don't think I believed misinformation because I've been taught to look at things really critically and look at studies and sample size and all those things. So I think I just. Was annoyed at the fact that people could believe things that were, to me obviously untrue.
Do you think that post-pandemic that your social life has gone back to normal?
Not entirely. I think I look at people and people's actions and what they say about their values a lot differently. The social distancing situation really made me value people's how people treat consent. And if someone wouldn't or refused to social distance from me or didn't respect that boundary. I didn't forget that.
Did you maybe find any creative ways to stay in contact with people during the course of the pandemic?
Oh, I don't know if you could call them creative, but I went on walks. Phone calls, Zoom, Netflix party. But that's basically just texting someone while you watch the same movie. What else? Basically just things outside.
Do you think social media might have played a role at all in how students dealt with the pandemic?
Yes, I think the role it played was really complex because, first of all. Lots of students or most students, I'd say are in tiktok's, target demographic so or even Instagram. So you could see people online posting about going through the same struggles as you and then feel seen. But then people did spread misinformation on the Internet. And I think that just created a weird social climate for people where everyone's taking sides like you're pro-vaccine or your anti-vax and. I don't know. At least for me, dealing with the constant fighting and arguing and taking sides. It took a toll on me emotionally. I just want everyone to get along.
You said you were very cautious about COVID. Do you think there's any stigmas attached to that?
Unfortunately, yes. I think people thought I was being ridiculous. But I was just trying to please my parents.
That's okay. I think you handled the pandemic a lot better than most of us did. That's my last question for you today. I really had a good time interviewing you. Thank you very much for meeting with me. I appreciate it.