2020 has been a year of much unexpected occurrences, with the radical change in the way we interact with one another to the way we conduct our daily activities, we have had to adapt to the current situation we are living in. The University of Aberdeen was not impervious to this, and today I would like to share how they have adjusted to our new-found reality and my personal experience with it all.
This year was one I was looking forward to ever since I embarked on my law career journey in 2017, the year of my graduation, when I obtained my LLB in Law with Business Studies at the University of Birmingham. Little did I know that COVID-19 would not only impede it commencing, but that it would redefine my whole academic experience. When I applied for my undergraduate studies, I started my first year on campus. However, the first year of my postgraduate studies at the University of Aberdeen has been purely online, as I am studying remotely from my home country – Mozambique.
It began with a very beneficial online orientation which lasted a week, where we had information sessions about our departments, Q&A’s for specific programmes, team building and an introduction to our supervisors. Watching the lectures online per se was not a novel concept for me because at my previous University all the lectures were recorded and posted online via Panopto so we could later refer to them, but I was apprehensive about the reading materials and how I would be able to access them. To my relief, the University equipped itself to provide us with all the content we would need for our degree through their online database, Primo. In my particular course, an LLM in Oil and Gas Law, all our lectures are pre-recorded and posted on Blackboard Collaborate, and the reading materials are provided early in the week to be read at our earliest convenience, so we can later analyse and discuss everything in our interactive online seminars. Additionally, the lecturers were extremely attentive, with a comprehensive approach from the outset, taking into consideration the individual circumstances of each learner.
Another worry I had was in relation to the social aspect of University life. How was I going to meet and interact with my colleagues from miles away? Did this mean that this year all I would get was knowledge and no new friendships? But once again, the department took this into consideration and set up the ‘Keep Connected - LLM well-being, information and social time’ which is an online meeting that happens on Microsoft Teams on Friday afternoons and is a way for students to get to know each other, socialise and share information. There are also many extracurricular activities to participate in, such as the ‘Employability Boost Award’ or the ‘Leadership Academy’ and many Law related ventures such as ‘AU Lawyers without Borders’ and the ‘Aberdeen Student Law Review’.
In conclusion, despite all the restrictions this pandemic has brought into our lives, it is quite evident that the staff, lecturers and even students have been doing their best to ensure that most aspects of what a University experience entails remains intact, and I am very proud to be a part of this community.
I have to admit that at first, I was a little worried about the blended-learning approach for the semester. At my last University, the classes during the pandemic were quite chaotic but the University of Aberdeen allowed all students to participate in the way that works best for them.
I decided to move to Aberdeen and participate in the on-campus classes. My two classes for the first semester were International Commercial Arbitration and WTO:GATT. Both classes had online lectures or pre-recorded podcasts in one week and the on-campus seminar the other week.
During the seminars, we were in groups of up to 10 students which allowed us to discuss the topics in class and ask as many questions as we had. In addition to the lectures and the seminars, we had weekly reading lists to build a base of knowledge on the topics. In the beginning, the reading lists can feel overwhelming, but it is really necessary to fully understand the lectures and seminars.
The assessments in these classes took place during the semester. We had to write two essays in each class. In my case, the exams were distributed well over the whole semester with two weeks in between every essay. Therefore, I could spend equal time on each essay. For other students, some essays were due on the same date which made it more stressful for them. For me, this method of assessment did facilitate the change of study systems and the open book essays took a lot of pressure out of the whole assessment process.
All in all, it was really pleasant to study this semester despite all the problems that we had to face this year. The School of Law will organise the next semester in the same way for the students who started in September and the new students who will start in January. Even if it was a lot of work, the classes were interesting, and we got enough support from the administration team and the Professors.