Success and failure amidst a pandemic

7 July 2021

Exams in the time of a pandemic are a particular challenge, so UCL student Dylan has written about their experience of changing academic performance, putting things into perspective and how we can look after ourselves.

Mindfulness for exam stress

Having recently completed my final year of being an undergraduate, I share and empathise with the fluctuations in academic performance this year due to the lack of consistency in our lives. We have all met, and still continue to cope with, the considerable difficulty of balancing a global crisis with our individual circumstances, as well as persisting with a degree. Thus, some of us have not performed as well as we would have liked, and may consider ourselves to have failed in some way. With a pandemic, difficult situations and personal struggles, my fellow students, friends and I have conversed with each other about how we’ve gotten through it, and the insights that have arisen out of these experiences. In turn, I wish to share them with you.

Success or failure is not an individual endeavour. The way that things turn out in our lives are a culmination of many different factors. While it is true that individual discipline and hard work are invaluable contributions towards our academic performance, we must not fail to acknowledge that our results are also a product of circumstance, environment, upbringing, and events beyond our control. What defines success is that we have tried our best. Correspondingly, we should remember we are supported; we have family, friends and mentors. We are not alone, and this year has proven that to persevere, to succeed, is to do so together.

That being said, academic results are in themselves not a matter of success or failure. Following from before, we can see that success is multifaceted. A global crisis has reminded us that surviving, staying healthy, and being supportive to ourselves and others, are clear and worthy indications of success. For many, we have been granted the opportunity to discuss and address our mental and physical health, to repair and strengthen friendships, relationships and bonds, and to take the time to reflect upon our values, principles and character. To have worked on any of these, are true marks of success.

At the end of the day, academic results are just one of the many tools that support just one aspect of our lives. We do not build lives around academic results, they are only meant to assist us in creating something larger, that’s all. Our lives are so much more, and we make our own successes in what we value, in where we find meaning, not in numerical quantifications of our abilities.

Our results are merely meant to reflect progress and areas for improvement, they do not define who we are. Some of us have understandably not performed as well as we would have hoped this year. But when it comes to disappointing grades, it is important to consider different mindsets and perspectives. Results are not definitive. Like sports and exercise, they are place markers for where we came from, and where we are going. They do not set in stone our lives nor do they come near to constituting our identities.

What is key is how we see our results and what we do with them. It’s okay and normal to feel disappointed, it’s okay to feel upset, and it’s okay to not be okay. These things are meant to be felt. They are part of the human experience, and by having them, is to add to the wonderful universe that is the individual. Our progress adds character, integrity. These things become the things that motivate us, that teach us perseverance, tenacity and open our minds to a wider context of what is truly important in our lives.

It is in our internal strife that sometimes awakens us to a bigger world, to the adventure that still awaits us. We mustn't let our results blind us from knowing we are successful regardless of them, we matter, and we are not alone. I shall end with this; we each have the challenge and responsibility of personhood. And to have it, is to recognise it in yourself and in others. To listen to yourself and others and to take it seriously. Ultimately, life is about being kind to both. I wish you well for the future.

Support available from Student Support and Wellbeing

Student Support and Wellbeing have lots of support available, including additional appointments with advisers. Call us on 020 7679 0100 between 9 and 10am to make an appointment for the same day, or submit an enquiry via askUCL and we will contact you to make an appointment, which can be via video call, phone call, or Microsoft Teams chat.

Dylan Ngan, BA Philosophy