We didn’t think we’d be here either, dear friends. When this whole event first occurred, your trusty editor thought a conservative estimation would be half of fall semester being remote. Here we are, however, with a scenario that calls for an entire year of doing Harvard online. It goes without saying that this decision comes with a lot of heartache and frustration on the behalf of all faculty and students - returning and new alike. Having been through the ringer of online Harvard, albeit just half a semester, gives the team at UGH the opportunity to reflect on a few tips and tricks we’ve learnt along the way to make the year of remote education a little easier.
An integral part of your education at Harvard are the students around you. Transitioning this to its online component is tricky. The virtual component of class prevents you from experiencing the joys of sitting next to a random person/future best friend in lecture, the ease of collaborating with peers during office hours, and the nonverbal cues that make up so much of our communication. But fear not, young grasshopper. You can still succeed.
It all comes down to communication, yeah?
Communicate with yourself: First and foremost, know thyself. Plan out your schedule, both weekly and over the course of the full semester. Since you’re not face-to-face, you won’t have that annoying kid sitting behind you who has the class schedule basically written on the back of their hand, reminding you that the exam is in two weeks, so you gotta know what’s going on and plan ahead. Last semester when we went online, I had a big calendar hanging in my room reminding me of all the major deadlines, and it helped keep me on track (and count down the days till summer). Also, know when and where you’re most productive, and plan out your time in chunks (with breaks for exercise/fresh air, showering, dinner, and Hulu planned in -- you are not a robot). Get into a regular schedule, and put away distractions when it’s time to grind. This ain’t high school, and work can pile up fast, especially online work (online lab videos, I’m lookin’ at you), and it can be easy to miss deadlines.
Communicate with others: Your ex probably said the same thing, and it applies to classes as well as relationships. Got a group project? Get started early, exchange numbers and create a group chat (on an app if necessary), and divvy up the work from the get go so there’s no excuses. In class, take advantage of every opportunity to reach out to fellow classmates or slide into those Zoom dms, and take initiative on finding pset partners and paper collaborators (maybe, even, dare I say, future friends?). Join GroupMes, hop on HouseParty, check your email all the damn time (since that’s the Harvard-favorite way to communicate), plan psetting or paper-writing FaceTimes so you can keep each other productive, group-watch recorded lectures, or maybe even suggest a (socially-distanced, mask-wearing) meet-up or two if you’re on campus and it’s safe to do so. Suffering through rough classes together is basically the Harvard motto (nope, it’s not veritas, let’s be real), and it can forge fast friendships, especially when you’re calling at four in the morning about a paper or pset due in two hours.
Communicate with profs/TFs/preceptors: Okay, so in high school, maybe teachers were a bit more accessible, knew your name, and thought you were the hot shit. But in college, especially in big lecture classes, you gotta do the heavy lifting, and it can be easy to be nothing but a blank square on a screen, especially in the virtual world. You’re here (well, not in person, but you know what we mean) and you’re ready to take full advantage of that Harvard life. So do it! Participate in class if you can. (There’s nothing worse than a section where the TF or prof asks a question, and everyone’s videos are off and mics muted.) Feel free to randomly cold-email profs and TFs when you have questions/comments/things you’re interested in. They want social connection, too, and they’re pretty cool people. And the most basic of all: attend office hours! (You think, oh, of course you’ll attend them. But in your darkest hour, you will forget, and this is the reminder you were looking for to bring you back from the brink.) We found that when school went online, classes tended to ramp up the office hours or the opportunities to meet, especially the bigger lectures, so take full advantage of those and pick some to go regularly to. Figure out how the class offers office hours (sign up through Calendly? Canvas Zoom links? Email the person directly?) and hop on a call. That way, when you want to join their lab or beg them to bump up your grade from a B+ to an A, they’ll remember you beyond your allegedly “hilarious” Zoom background. Also, literally everyone holds fucking office hours, where all they do is sit and wait for people to talk to. Student orgs/publications, the library for paper research help, concentration advisors, student course facilitators (who just took the course and know the ins and outs from a student perspective) -- just go! Chill out, get to know the person on the other side of that screen, and remember that you need some human interaction, too.
Basically, don’t try to take on all this shit alone. You’re gonna make mistakes and have “technical difficulties” (i.e. you forgot to submit your paper and need an excuse), but you shall prevail. Online school does suck a little. But it can also not suck sometimes, and maybe you’ll still learn things. Just figure out how the fuck Canvas works (bookmark that shit on your laptop; it’s your new favorite webpage) and how your class organizes its page. Learn how Gradescope works (answer: it sometimes doesn’t), explore Hollis (i.e. the library genie) for database/library access, and maybe get a scanner app or take the plunge and invest in an iPad for submitting handwritten psets. A word to the wise: when you’re selecting classes and looking at Q guide scores before your semester of online fun, remember that those comments were about in-person classes, and think about how that fun in-person class might really translate into the online world before you sign up. Maybe find a sophomore or someone who took that class when it went online?
Be safe, but, like, not just sex:
Wear your masks, folks. HUHS usually has some on hand, and we’re sure that Harvard will have a system to get supplies and stuff to you, but do what you need to do to stay safe. Maybe invest in some hand sanitizer or those nifty sanitizing wipes and make the trek down to CVS or even Harris Teeter to buy ‘em. Wash your fuckin hands. Always. Before you eat. Whatever. Follow all the state/federal/CDC/Harvard regulations, especially if/when you venture out. Stay updated on what spots are open both on and off campus and what’s not (check out the Dean of Students website for more details about on-campus spaces). Respect people’s decisions about distancing and isolation (i.e. if they’re immunocompromised, etc.) and always encourage your friends to be safe. Keep yourself healthy. Drink your water, eat your meals, sleep, and shower. A worldwide pandemic is not the time to ignore your health.
Basically, don’t be an asshole.
Student Orgz/General Advice:
Okay, so everyone’s social lives kinda aren’t great right now. That’s okay. But reach out! Attend events as much as you can! I know it’s hard, and it can be easy to hole up and lose yourself to Zoom fatigue. For sure, take time for yourself, but remember that just because you’re stuck in your dorm or whatever most of the time doesn’t mean that you’re stuck there all the time, like, mentally.
The student orgs did an amazing job creating strong online presences so check your emails, join lists, and keep in touch with people you meet through these orgs’ events. These orgs, concentration departments, and a myriad of Harvard offices are all running gazillions of Zoom events to keep you connected to the community and taking advantage of the Harvard connections. Many have online mentoring options for you to meet upperclassfolks, tons of virtual socials/game nights/happy hours, e-panels, online speaker series, service activities, and/or online-streamed performances (i.e. Froshical online), without going in-person. Comping is still occurring online for many orgs, and even orgs that can’t quite operate without in-person components often have amazing communities that can still provide you with that social connection you’ve been craving. So jump right in and take advantage of your chances to engage: attend events, participate in them, maybe run one. And see how much better online life can get for you.
As you read the rest of our Guide, here are some things to keep in mind: most of the tips that we outline in this guide apply even over Zoom because of how Harvard has tried to adapt cornerstones of Harvard life like advising, etc. to online/socially distant/safe modes. Always check online and our hyperlinks for the most up-to-date info, and see our editor’s note for more details on how this Guide can best help you with Zoom life.
We believe in you and your ability to pour life into our online world, young and fresh-faced first-years, and we have faith that someday we can say that to you in-person on campus.