Down the rabbit hole… and into the world of ‘StudyTubers’

I’ve been trying to think back to when (and how) I first stumbled upon Lydia Violeta’s channel on YouTube. It was somewhere towards the beginning of lockdown – a chunk of time that no one can quite coherently reconstruct! In the midst of the ever-changing decisions on when and how term would restart, in my case to complete three block one courses, I had ended up procrastinating down an endless YouTube tunnel. You know how it goes… You watch a video on how to make a chicken korma using the limited list of level 5 lockdown ‘essential food items’, and the next thing its four hours and 20 videos later and you’re watching a Business Management student from Leeds University show you how she studies for her exams. At this point you have no idea how you got there, but you are hooked!

I personally was captivated because this filled a strange grey area between escapism (hey, it wasn’t me who was stressing over accounting exams!) and a very useful insight into the student experience. Particularly, the student experience of adapting to online learning in lockdown. While Lydia Violeta’s first year pretty much ended at the beginning of lockdown, another StudyTuber Eve Bennett documented a number of ‘day in the life’ videos on how she was transitioning to online learning. These were so important to me in understanding what our students might be facing, from a student’s perspective. And let’s be honest, a student at Oxford University is probably experiencing far fewer challenges than the majority of our student body in South Africa – with challenges of internet connectivity, data costs, loadshedding and 10 person households being all too common. It meant that I was consciously trying to make the life of our students that little bit easier wherever I could. 

It was sometime around then that I tried to find local StudyTubers. The YouTube algorithm wasn’t my friend on that one. If you’re out there – please let me know. So, I pitched this idea to SAYAS – let’s film a ‘day in the life’ for the SAYAS YouTube channel. We decided to start with our bloggers – a brilliant group of postgraduates, each of whom have had to adapt both their lifestyles and their research projects to lockdown conditions, yet have somehow had the time and mental capacity to apply to join our blogging group. No doubt these ‘day in the life’ videos will be an inspiration to many who are considering postgraduate degrees. Hopefully, however, they will also be grounding, reminding us that PhD students are people just like us, and struggle with many of the same challenges while they make their way through pretty mundane lockdown life. 

My own ‘day in the life’? Watch this space. We are also hoping that some of the members of SAYAS will record these too over the course of the year. At the moment it involves an endless cycle of recording and exporting lectures, replying to emails, and trying to reschedule meetings around lecture recording time because it all takes so much longer than expected. I also have exciting days, even in lockdown. Attending conferences, running workshops, and my personal favourite – group meetings with my postgraduates. Probably the most important things I’ve learnt from watching ‘day in the life’ vlogs is that even the most productive people aren’t productive 24/7, and that’s ok! 

I hope you enjoy this journey with our bloggers!

Jennifer Fitchett

Make plans, but with a pencil

“What 2020 taught us is to make plans with a pencil…”

Here is to the start of a new year for the SAYAS blog. Although (or because?) many of us challenged our fates by saying the year cannot be worse than the previous one, for some of us the first month of 2021 brought more negative moments than the whole twelve months of 2020.

With many lessons from 2020, I am starting this year with low expectations but big dreams and high energy for work. But I am making plans with a pencil…and an eraser close by.

A few years ago, I asked a professor that was giving a talk on the future of education and work “so, which are the skills I make sure that my own kids should have?” and she said “ethics and adaptability” [Prof Stephanie, every presentation – a lesson for us, thank you]. How true these words were! In a maybe forceful manner, our world was tested in both. The higher education system even more; as with any big shock of change in conditions exogenous to the system, there were winners and losers. We were not fully prepared and we were not anticipating the magnitude of the shock.

But we cannot talk of a shock anymore. It has been a year that we are in this situation; everybody talking about the “new normal” that is coming next. Well, hello?? The “new normal” is here and we have had time to acknowledge it. Let’s live now within these conditions (not as “unprecedented” anymore) and take it a step at a time. Let’s plan and dream and set high targets as always. Just put them down in pencil and be prepared with alternative plans, and be willing to move into these as though it was the plan from the beginning.


Looking forward to work with the new SAYAS bloggers. More now than ever, we need to listen to each other and try and learn the world from other people’s perspectives.

Cheers to another full round around the sun.

Cheers to be healthy.

Cheers to making an impact with out discussions and our actions. 

Roula Inglesi-Lotz