'Lost sense of purpose': Students cope with cancelled internships, jobs

Second-year biochemistry student Clarence Choy’s entire summer plan changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was planning to work with a chemistry professor on campus in a lab, but after classes went online in mid-March, he was informed that his summer lab position would be cancelled.

“I was pretty sad for a few days because I planned a lot for this summer job,” Choy said in an interview with The Ubyssey. “In order to get [it], I needed a good mark in chemistry ... so when I've worked so hard on that chemistry subject, and now [the job is] cancelled it kind of hit me a little.”

He was offered the opportunity to work from September to December instead, but he could not accept the offer due to his intention for a heavy fall course load.

Choy is one of many UBC students whose summer jobs have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s also one of many students across the country dealing with this situation. A national survey conducted on over 100,000 Canadian post-secondary students by Statistics Canada found that 35 per cent of participants had a work placement cancelled or delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 86 per cent of those students reported being very or extremely concerned about how COVID-19 would impact their personal finances.

Financial impact on students

Fourth-year BFA acting student Bonnie Duff relies on the summer season to work and save money for the upcoming year.

“Summer’s when I make [the most]. I work a little bit during the school year, but it's pretty sporadic and only just teaching workshops when they come up. My schedule for school is nuts … it's very intensive,” she said.

Duff has worked full time at the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival for the last three years. Following the festival’s cancellation, she managed to find an alternative part-time job in late May at a candy store. She also receives Canada Emergency Response Benefit payments, but is still not making as much money as she normally would.

“In terms of losing the job for the summer ... Bard is definitely my kind of happy place and it really didn't feel like a job [to me] and that was really disappointing.”

The Statistics Canada survey found that participants with a cancelled or delayed work placement were more likely to be concerned about their ability to pay for current expenses or the need to dip into their savings to do so. Government payments relieve some of those worries for students.

Zack Crouch, a second-year history student, said that he is particularly grateful for government funding right now.

Crouch’s plans to continue working for Blue Chip and UBC Recreation’s Todd Ice Hockey League over the summer were halted due to COVID-19. He doesn’t expect his work to start back up in September, either.

"With classes going online for the fall semester, for the most part, I can expect that traffic at the Nest and especially Blue Chip will go down significantly, so there will be less of a demand for hired workers. And as well since there won't be as many people on campus or in Vancouver, I don’t expect leagues to start back up again.”

Although Blue Chip has since reopened, it informed Crouch that he would not be rehired for the summer and that being rehired for the fall term is unlikely.

Loss of routine

Apart from money, the loss of employment opportunities has caused students’ mental health to deteriorate.

Crouch said he found the situation of losing his jobs to be “tough.”

“A lot of my friends have lost jobs and it's hard to get through, but at the end of the day, I'm grateful for government support, like [the Canada Emergency Student Benefit] and other programs [because] I don't know if I'd be able to continue on or even be able to afford food,” he said. “I kind of felt a lost sense of purpose, in that I no longer knew what I was doing.

“If it wasn't for some friends I still have here ... and the people around me as well as my parents back home, I don't think it could have gotten better.”

Third-year electrical engineering student Katie Seifert was a junior designer for an engineering consulting firm where she was supposed to work all summer. Although she was assured by her employer that she would not be laid off, she suddenly was on April 13. Seifert said she struggled with feelings of betrayal and the loss of routine.

“I didn't really know what to do with my time [at first]. I spent a lot of time just aimlessly staring at the Internet, and just felt very aimless and bored, but after a little while I started making more plans to get out and get some exercise, get some sunlight,” Seifert said.

“I go for an eight kilometre walk every weekend. With one of my friends I go for bike rides ... and that really did help.”