Arts & Science alumni staying connected — at a distance thanks to YouTube

April 15, 2020 by Michael McKinnon - A&S News

Faculty of Arts & Science alumnus Nasir Kharma isn’t letting the COVID-19 pandemic keep him from studying with students around the world — virtually and from a safe distance, of course.

To help students stay motivated and connected to their academics at a time when many are feeling more isolated than ever, he posted a seven-hour YouTube video of himself studying that was viewed a remarkable 130,000 times in the first week alone. 

“I really enjoy studying in libraries because it gives me a sense of community,” explains Kharma, 24, who earned his honours bachelor of science as a member of New College in 2017. “In our current situation of isolation, I think having a ‘Study with Me’ video open while you’re studying can replicate that feeling of studying with people.”

Filmed in the U.K., where Kharma is currently a third-year medical student at King’s College London, the video is that simple: a side-shot of Kharma at his desk, studying. After a brief introduction that includes him hiding his phone and suggesting viewers grab a coffee and snacks, Kharma gets to work. There’s no more talking, just the soft flipping of pages and shuffling of pens one would experience with a “real” study partner. Viewers are free to study their own subject while Kharma studies his.

And yes — he’s aware not everyone studies for seven hours at a time, even with the breaks he takes. He encourages students to study for periods that work for them and to get motivated.

“The feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “They find it valuable to have some sort of structure to follow for study sessions, especially now during this period when we all have so much free time. Having someone else right there with them helps students get into the study zone and study for longer than usual.”

The video is part of KharmaMedic, an online effort he started two years ago to help fellow students get into medical school. Through YouTube videos, his Instagram page and other resources, Kharma provides advice, including tips on entrance interviews and exams, as well as a snapshot of what medical school is actually like via his vlogs (video logs). The videos clearly resonate with students; one has been viewed 1.5 million times, and many have cleared 100,000 views. The comment section is peppered with thanks and shout-outs from students around the world, including U of T, who love his advice, Tim Hortons sweatshirt and Toronto references.

Study videos like this are already popular in South Korea, and Michelle Cho, an assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Studies in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T says she won’t be surprised if they become more popular elsewhere during the pandemic.

“They help by offering a sense of solidarity and accountability,” Cho explains. “Simply knowing others are out there putting in hours of study time can help mitigate feelings of isolation, loneliness and boredom. Even if one is watching a pre-recorded video, rather than tuning in to a livestream — which is arguably even more effective in helping students study — there is still a sense of palpable shared experience that can be quite motivating.”

Kharma’s own journey to medical school started with honing his study skills as a U of T undergrad. While he arrived at university with a strong foundation in time management and balancing social and academic commitments, U of T helped him take it to a new level.

“I learned to really micromanage my time at U of T, to be very smart and efficient in every aspect of my life — not just academics,” he says. “That’s something I carry with me even now on a daily basis. I’m always thinking about efficiencies in my actions and how best to organize and manage my time. If I can group tasks that are similar and do them together — whether cooking or doing chores or studying — then I’m repeating the same process and not breaking in and out of that zone. 

“It’s all about organizing your time so you can be as productive as possible when you are most productive, depending on when you like to study or when you can study.”

So what advice does Kharma have for those with their eye on medical school?

“First and foremost, go for it,” he says — and stand out.

“If you’re able to do anything that is unique and a little out there and off the beaten path for typical med school applicants, I think that goes a long way. When universities are reading through hundreds of applications, anything that stands out will really set you apart and will help them remember you, and that’s important.”

Watch the video: