Jennifer, has your curriculum in any way been affected by the pandemic?
I was able to take every course that I needed to, but the grading for example was changed. In one of my courses it was previously just an option to write certain tutorials for extra points to improve your grade, but since the pandemic we had to write the tutorials compulsory to pass the course. We had nine assignments, each assignment was 20 points, so in total 180 points. If anyone scored more than 90, they had passed. But you would not get grades for that. It was just either “pass” or “fail”. Your overall grade would not be affected. That grading system was created to take the effects of the pandemic into account.
In which form did the digital/online learning take place?
I had two subjects this year. One was “Machine Learning 2”, the other one was a seminar. We were allowed to choose a subject we liked and worked on it in groups of two or three. At some point we were then to present the subject in a Zoom meeting by sharing our screens.
During the sessions all of has had to turn on the video camera. Since this was a compulsory course for me, I had to achieve 80% attendance. The professor would post questions via a link to the class about the topic presented.
How did you perceive the online learning experience?
It was quite challenging at first because not everybody has a good laptop. If your laptop didn’t work you wouldn’t have been able to do anything this semester. That was a main challenge for everybody. As well as concentrating on something you see on the Zoom meeting. But I still think that the professors did a really good job - they tried to keep us engaged. For example with interactive questions during the meeting and at the end – thus we paid attention during the course. The tutors were also really understanding with the challenges people were facing. Once for example, I said that I couldn’t present that week and my tutor replied: “That’s fine, just give me a time and we’ll arrange a meeting.” They were really flexible.
Did you have other obligations while studying?
I work in a company called “Keramischer Ofenbau” as a working student in the research and development department and fortunately I was working all throughout the pandemic. Even when the virus hit us all really hard, my company was still open. I was not given the option to work from home because I work with big logical controllers and they are huge pieces of equipment, so I cannot take them to my flat. They also need a highspeed internet connection, which I obviously don’t have in my room.
You are now in your third semester of your Master’s degree. Where did you do your Bachelor?
I did my Bachelor in Chennai, India, in Computer Sciences and I was working with IBM for two years and six months. Then I came to Hildesheim to do my Master’s degree.
Why did you choose Hildesheim?
A year before I got to Hildesheim, I came here with my parents to travel Europe and I really liked it in Germany. The tuition fees are very low and for me the way of life here is much better than in India. There are only very few universities in Germany that offer “Data Analytics” and for me Hildesheim had the best curriculum. All the deep learning topics that are in trend right now are provided here. And there are so many job opportunities in that field but very few applicants, so “Data Analytics” was the right subject for me. And when I finally came to Hildesheim in 2019, I loved the city more than anything.
So you enjoy studying here?
Yes I love it here. I do not really enjoy places like Berlin or Stuttgart that much, since they are really big cities. Here in Hildesheim, there is a very different feeling – it’s much more relaxed.
Was it difficult to keep up a “social net” during the last months?
I live in a student’s home with many other Indian students from my course. Because we live in the same household we were able meet each other and I was also meeting people at work, which made me calm and composed. The consequences of the pandemic in Germany were never really that bad which made it all manageable for me. You could walk to the lake or through the forest to calm yourself.
What are your plans for the next year.
I am in my third semester and I’m supposed to start my thesis next year. Right now I’m planning on concentrating on my project and the work I have. The project is part of my studies. It takes a year to complete during which you work on a particular subject, and we have to coordinate ourselves within teams to work on it together which is quite difficult to do online. I would also like to go to India for a couple of months because it’s almost been a year since I’ve last seen my family.
Is there anything in particular that you will remember from the last months?
The most important thing I will remember is that I am quite grateful. Because in India the health support system is not that great and there are a lot of restrictions that keep people inside for a really long time.
It was just really difficult for me to stay here while my family was in India. I have friends and family that were infected. And you always wonder, will your parents be okay? I lost my grandmother and aunt during this time and there was no way for me to come back home. So I think Corona has really done harm - emotionally and mentally it is really damaging.
Are you planning on staying in Germany?
Yes, I would like to stay and work here after my thesis for a couple of years. I really like the work culture and it is just generally a really nice place to be. The government does not only support the German students. I am most happy and proud that even during this time there were so many scholarships given to International Students to cover expenses. I even got a grant myself, called “Commitment Grant” worth 1300 Euro that helps me put up with my expenditures.
Interview: Thore Fahrenbach / Bearbeitung: Sara Reinke