Contributed by: Jessie Bauer
It is fair to say that being an undergraduate student brings with it a great deal of anxiety. Not to mention, the added stress of COVID-19 and its many restrictions. My name is Jessie Bauer and in May 2020, I had the privilege and honour to work alongside Rachael Finnerty in organizing data from a research study regarding the activities students participated in during COVID-19 protocols. This research study was created with the intent of examining student wellness in order to develop student support programs that are pro-active. To start off, I am currently a student at Queen’s University, completing my undergraduate degree in Health Studies, alongside pursuing a Certificate in Business from the Smith School of Business. My dream is to work in the field of health promotion or study epidemiology as I am passionate about empowering individuals to take part in healthy behaviours as well as intrigued by examining patterns among various populations. This blog will discuss my passion for health promotion and epidemiology, the skills and new experience I have gained and what I can do with the knowledge I have learned.
Moving on to the research study, it was completed via an online survey that was completed among almost 800 students. Initially, questions were asked surrounding student demographics and then a large focus on the activities students have completed during COVID-19, such as baking, engaging in music, socializing with friends or completing exercise. Later into the survey, students were asked questions relating to levels of anxiety, the Big 5 personality traits as well as seeking support during COVID-19. A major point I took from this survey is the idea that students seeking out support during the pandemic was very important in maintaining positive mental health. When examining results further, it was revealed that 65% of students experienced high levels of state anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. This information was mind-blowing to learn as I knew students were anxious, but I did not realize so many students fall in the high anxiety category. Thus, the survey results reiterated to me, that there is a gap among the population of university students surrounding proactive student support and mental health, especially anxiety. Overall, my passion for improving overall wellness and studying health patterns among populations was explored through this study. The data and knowledge I have gained from this study has motivated me to fill the gap and increase the availability of student support programs in this population to decrease the extremely high levels of anxiety.
Throughout this research study, there were a variety of tasks that I completed. To start off, students that completed this wellness survey had to be organized into different categories, such as their demographics and the activities completed before and during COVID-19 protocols. Through Excel, categories were created, which was an effective way to organize initial information that was provided about students. This set the stage for an efficient way to analyze the results to the other questions in the survey. Overall, sorting this data helped to develop a strong sense of work ethic. I developed high levels of focus and persistence when sorting through the data as I was determined to explore the results and discover trends among the university population.
Next, there were various questions that were connected with each other, which allowed for the opportunity to explore results further. For example, questions were asked relating to students’ personalities (OCEAN), their levels of state anxiety (STAI scores), their hobbies and extracurricular interests before and during COVID-19, the impact of social media and those who sought out support or not during the pandemic. Throughout these questions, the results between questions were connected in order to make sense of the data. Overall, this was significant in understanding how students coped with the many impacts of this pandemic and helped to develop critical thinking skills. By making connections through various questions, it helped to make the data clearer and actually had the power to motivate my goals. For example, analyzing the connection between undergraduate students and high levels of anxiety, motivated myself to advocate for change and to decrease the high levels of anxiety present in this population.
Where to next?
Overall, this research study was the perfect opportunity to gain new skills, make my goals more apparent and analyze my passion for overall health. Ultimately, I have learned that there is a gap among this population surrounding proactive student support. I can now use the information I have learned through this study to promote this behaviour to my friends and family and to actually help others cope with the challenges associated with this pandemic. Thus, this research study has made my goals apparent by motivating myself to fill the gap in terms of high-level anxiety and proactive support. Additionally, I am grateful that this opportunity provided me with new skills such as a strong work ethic and critical thinking skills. These are skills that will be beneficial through every aspect of my life, especially in the field of health that I am so passionate about. Although times may be tough, I have learned that there are positive ways to cope and that seeking out support and completing activities in this time are beneficial behaviours we can engage in for our overall health! Filling the gap of proactive supports available to undergraduate students could help to lower overall student anxiety and I am motivated to make this happen.