Linda Zhang ’20 on Remote Learning and Making the Best of a Challenging Situation

Linda Zhang ’20 is an English and physics double major. She was awarded the H. Elizabeth Braun Catalyst for Change Award this spring in recognition of her work creating a diverse and inclusive community, including working as the cultural center assistant for ACE, the Asian Center for Empowerment, for two years. Zhang spoke with Sasha Nyary on April 15, 2020, from her family home in Wayland, Massachusetts. 

On classes, independent studies and Senior Symposium

I’m only taking two academic classes. Only one of them actually meets, and even that is optional and the class time is a lot shorter. I usually have a weekly check-in with my advisors. But that’s usually the only scheduled thing that I have during the day. So I don’t really get to see any of my classmates during the day. Most of the day it’s just me working on classes and my independent studies on my own.

I’m taking two independent studies, one for my English thesis. I’m checking with my advisor once a week and we’ll have a regular Zoom call for that. And then my other independent study is working in one of the physics labs. I’m pretty lucky because all I really needed was software and they were able to give me a remote login for that. I meet with my advisor on Zoom as well.

My classes are pretty asynchronous. I’m taking physics, Analytical Mechanics, with Spencer Smith. He’ll post all the lectures in Moodle, and the homework. He tries to do synchronous office hours twice a week. My creative writing class with Andrea Lawlor was a three-hour seminar but I think my professor has chosen to relax some of the deadlines and the assignments. So the Zoom check-ins are optional.

For my English independent study I have Amy Rodgers as an advisor and for the physics independent study I have Kerstin Nordstrom. My Senior Symposium choice was interesting because I am double-majoring. I ended up going with the physics presentation. Having a place where I could  present and knowing that I probably wouldn’t have other chances to do that kind of pushed me into choosing to do the physics presentation. I learned a lot about giving a good presentation and my advisor was really supportive, looking over my slides and watching a first draft of my video. She gave me really good feedback on presenting and how to communicate effectively.

When I was preparing those materials I noticed that I missed the social aspect of it. This whole semester I was thinking about being able to go in front of the physics department and be with my peers and listen to their research while also sharing mine. It was hard to let go of that image. But I’m also glad that I could still put my work out to those who I really wanted to share it with.

Illustration by Marina Li

On remote learning 

It’s very difficult for me to be disciplined with myself and to focus in the same way that I would have if I were actually in that physical space. It’s also felt weird to not be around other people who are doing the same kind of work and learning the same material. I’ve been relying more on the book. It takes me a lot longer to actually process what’s going on. It’s nice to see other classmates come during office hours but it’s really hard not to be in person with my professor working on the same thing. 

But in the creative writing class I’ve definitely enjoyed being able to check in with my classmates. A good majority of the class shows up and it’s a really good space for us to check in. It was comforting to know that everybody was going through the same emotions and having the same issues with online school and being back at home. For maybe the first two weeks or so, it started to feel very isolating. So I really look forward to having those scheduled meetings.

On working with student orgs

My job with the cultural centers is on hold. That’s been kind of weird, especially since the Asian Center for Empowerment was trying to plan things for AAPI [Asian American Pacific Islander] Heritage Month. So we shifted our expectations. We’re planning two virtual events for the month. Some sort of virtual art gallery exhibition and maybe a virtual potluck.