Their final projects are useless
‘I have everything, except the conclusions’
Aarti Kasbha (25) had a bad feeling when she was asked to come to the lab. ‘I’d only just started my research when I heard we all had to come get our personal effects.’
The student from India is doing a master in biomolecular sciences. The coronavirus is messing things up for her. She started the research for her master in February, but was quickly told she wouldn’t be able to continue.
She studies the growth of white blood cells and how they respond to infections. It’s research that can only be done under laboratory conditions. ‘This means I’ve lost all my data’, says Aarti. ‘I had to throw everything away.’
Indonesian student Sekar Galuh (25) has the same problem. She’s a student of medical pharmaceutical science and grows cells in order to study their genes and protein profile in relation to Parkinson’s disease. ‘We had to throw all those cells in the bin.’
She’s upset, but understands it was the only thing they could do.
I’ve lost all my data; I had to throw away everything away
The coronavirus will likely impact both women’s graduation. Aarti worries that she won’t be able to finish her degree. ‘It’s the same fear a lot of other international students have. Especially since it’s so expensive. I’ve paid around 15,000 euros to study in Groningen.’
On top of that, she can’t just extend her visa, which is currently valid until December. ‘That’s very expensive and I can’t make any money if nothing here works.’
She used to work for Uber Eats, but quit because her family in India was too worried about her. ‘They didn’t want me going outside anymore. I also want to make sure I’m not a carrier of the virus, in case I want to go home.’
Not that she can right now; the country is on lockdown until April 15. ‘I think the lockdown will last even longer. I just hope my family is okay. We talk a lot on the phone, which is good.’
Money is on Sekar’s mind a lot, as well. ‘I have a scholarship in Indonesia. The government is paying for my studies, but only for two years. If I can’t graduate this year, that’ll be an issue. They can’t tell me anything yet, though. No one saw this whole thing coming, which makes it very difficult.’
She’s unable to make any money on the side, as the Indonesian government has banned her from working during her master. ‘One of the conditions of my scholarship is that I completely focus on my studies.’
Because her family is so worried about her, Aarti hasn’t left the house in three weeks. ‘When the lab closed, I went to the store and bought so many supplies. I’m at home. I’ve had no physical contact with anyone. I haven’t seen another person for three weeks.’
A switch to theoretical research would be ideal for me
She is having a hard time, but is trying to stay hopeful. ‘I’m reading a lot, I watch Netflix, and I talk to my friends in Groningen and India online. Whenever things get too difficult, I immediately call my family.’
The students hope the UG can solve their problems. Aarti says there are a few solutions. The most obvious one is to switch from practical research to theoretical research. ‘That would be ideal for me. If they can’t figure it out before September, I hope I can finish my degree at no extra cost. I can’t afford to stay here for another year.’
Sekar also hopes to finish her research. ‘I’ll do it over the summer if I have to.’ Her supervisor and study adviser are working hard to help her. ‘They know how important it is for me to finish by September. They’re trying to come up with a solution. My supervisor is considering replacing the practical research with alternative assignments.’
Sekar would hate it if she couldn’t finish her research. ‘It would mean I’d learn fewer research skills. I didn’t think my adventure would end this way.’
Both women are caught in a kind of limbo, right now. ‘I’ve finished everything else I needed to do for my degree. Essays, exams, what have you. It’s just such a weird situation’, says Aarti.
Safe in the Netherlands
Sekar has started writing her research report, since she, too, has finished everything else required for her degree. ‘I basically have everything I need for my report, apart from the conclusions. It’s only the most important part’, she says, laughing.
I’ve finished everything I needed to do for my degree
Fortunately, Sekar feels safe in the Netherlands. ‘I feel like the country is doing a good job facing this crisis. My family has told me to stay here until it’s all over with.’
At home, she mainly works on her report. She occasionally leaves her house for groceries or a walk around the block. ‘I’m not meeting up with my friends, though. That’s pretty hard. Especially as an international student.’
She spends a lot of time on social media. ‘I message and call my friends a lot. I hope this awful situation is over soon.’
How does the UG deal with thesis issues?
‘Essentially, the UG wants to enable online theses wherever possible’, says spokesperson Jorien Bakker. The university will look for an alternative when continuing a thesis online isn’t an option. ‘The UG will do everything in its power to prevent delays.’
Jacob Jolij, department head of the DataLab at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, knows all about the issue. ‘Psychology is our largest programme by far, and several dozen students have run into problems because the labs are closed.’
Faculty of Science and Engineering study adviser Geartsje Zondervan says her students are running into trouble as well. ‘At least fifty in the chemistry department. We’re solving it by replacing practical research with theoretical research.’ Zondervan says there are hundreds of students at the faculty that are having issues with their thesis.
The problems at the Faculty of Economics and Business haven’t been that bad, says Manda Broekhuis, the faculty board’s vice dean. But they, too, are considering alternatives, such as online interviews.
Broekhuis: ‘Students have to show that they meet the basic quality requirements for a thesis. They can use a hundred test subjects for this, but fifty works as well. They need to address this in the discussion section of their thesis.’
Jolij agrees. He feels online tests are a good solution. Examiners and supervisors should take the unusual circumstances into account, he says.
Both Jolij en Broekhuis want to impress upon their students that they should speak up if they’re worried. ‘Don’t let it fester; contact your supervisor or study adviser’, says Jolij.
He says the chances of graduating in September are good if people just communicate. ‘But it’s still a difficult situation. We’re building a plane as we’re flying it.’