Do University students have an identity beyond school? The answer to this question may seem obvious, but in reality, it is complex and disappointing. Unfortunately, the lives of most students are utterly consumed by academia. While some students certainly thrive in University and enjoy their academic experiences, a vast majority of students feel overextended, overworked, overwhelmed.
Being a University student is a full-time job that requires endless overtime. Coursework, grades, projects, midterms, and exams constantly plague the minds of students throughout the academic year. Inevitably, then, school consumes most of our time, our energy, and even our identities. Personally, I find that school encapsulates the majority of my identity, and it is hard to remember that I am not simply a “student.” Yet, I primarily define myself by my major and place much of my self-worth in my grades and academic accomplishments.
I wanted to gain perspective from other UBCO undergraduates on how University consumes their lives as students. I virtually asked them to respond to this prompt,
“Have you thought about your identity outside of being a student? Tell us your experiences with school consuming your life.”
I was comforted yet saddened to discover that many students have similar and relatable experiences of school consuming their lives and identities. One student stated, “School has consumed my life so much that my identity is basically my grades, my major, and a small handful of interests that still play into my academic life.” Clearly, even in their spare time, students are still inseparable from their studies.
Another student emphasized the difficulty of actually maintaining identity while being a student, explaining, “it’s been hectic. My mind’s been racing and I haven’t been feeling like I’m in the right place. I’ve been soul searching and having to keep up with assignments all at the same time.” This begs the question of when and how are students able to discover who they are when they are constantly prioritizing school and homework over themselves. Is it only after graduation that a student can create an identity?
Moreover, one student described, in detail, how University completely consumed their life, “my second year of engineering was the worst year of my life. I was on campus from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. Professors threw so much work at us that I would be up until 3:00 am every night working on assignments. When finals came around, I became a complete hermit and neglected my physical and mental health. I'd barely eat one meal a day, never slept, and spent any time I wasn't sleeping studying for my finals. In post-secondary, there seems to be this expectation that students sacrifice their own mental health in exchange for academic success. There's constant lip service about mental health in academia, but nothing has changed since my first year, and now with the pandemic and online classes, professors are creating even more work. I don't remember the last time I took a day off. My life is run by deadlines and I stare at a screen 10+ hours a day.”
While these student responses are anonymous, they are collectively synonymous. It is clear that many students have been wholly overwhelmed by University. School consumes the entirety of their lives, even more so now that classes are online.
In order to remember that there is light at the end of the student tunnel, I asked UBCO Alumni Dustin Cathro to offer us his perspective now that he has completed his degree,
Opinions Editor: Have you noticed a significant change in your student identity/life since graduating?
Dustin Cathro: Identity is tricky, I think we all adapt in certain ways to challenges that arise in our lives and I certainly developed a systematic way to complete my school work, though at times it would come at the cost of my social life. Admittedly, I am happy to be finished with the university and working on myself more directly. After graduating, I felt significant relief by being able to pursue my own creative endeavors as I felt that the arts hardly rewarded creativity and much rather rewarded obedience and the regurgitation of ideas. All in all, I think the significance of graduating made me realize what is most important to me since I spent so much time doing things I otherwise wasn't interested in.
OE: Do you miss university and being a student or are you happy to move on from student life?
DC: The bottom line is that I am happier to be out in the “real world” and to move on from student life. Now being outside of the university I can focus on what actually interests me and not be dictated by the course requirements that at times seem like a simple money grab. I am happy to move on!
OE: In what ways has your identity been impacted by school or graduating?
DC: Being under financial stress was probably the most devastating because in the back of my mind I would be carrying my debt with me everywhere I went. Some students can relate better than others but I also think that students like myself who supported themselves through University faced serious adversity and that kind of stress can help shape your character in many positive ways. Though at the time it seemed foolish to essentially be losing money each month it was necessary for moving forward in my career goals.
I think having in mind the long term plan was essential in keeping me motivated and staying honest. It's a great feeling to set a goal and complete it and the skills and stress along the way taught me valuable life lessons. Most notably I think stress mitigation and finding ways to alleviate frustration in healthy ways was key for me. I guess in a nutshell going through the process of getting my degree made me realize just how important it is to keep my life in balance and how good habits create long-lasting rewards.