Graduating Into a Pandemic: Damini Agrawal
It’s been about a year since most of North America began social distancing to combat COVID-19. How has this strange and difficult time affected young people entering the design profession? We checked in with students who graduated last spring from university programs in North America; below is the third of four stories. The others feature Angad Singh, Francis Ho, and Michelle Chan.
Rhode Island School of Design, Providence
If you know RISD, you know that its curriculum places an emphasis on the design process, on making and finding your voice as a creative person. That said, by teaching me not to just follow and create, but rather to respond, question, and only then create, it helped me transition into the design industry, where it’s easy to get lost or swept along.
The scramble last spring was very overwhelming: everything happened so suddenly. The school shut down, we had to move off campus, we had to say goodbye to everyone without knowing when we could meet again—all in the middle of coursework and our degree projects. Oh, yeah, and making our portfolios and trying to find jobs. The silent vacuum of the lockdown made it even more challenging. My professors, the career center, and the office of international student services were all understanding and supportive, but it was still difficult.
While I didn’t have concrete offers of work after graduation, I was building my portfolio and intending to apply for jobs in this country, and specifically in New York. I knew I wanted to move there eventually. I began frantically applying for jobs in June, which is later than ideal, but I cut myself some slack due to the pandemic. I didn’t have much luck. Most design studios weren’t hiring. Some of these interviews were explicitly “in case any positions become available.” Then, sometime in August, the head of talent acquisition at Interbrand reached out to me about an interview. My conversation with the design team went well and I got the gig!
Learning to collaborate remotely wasn’t as big of a shift as I thought, since I had had practice doing this during the lat semester of school. My colleagues have been super empathetic, which helps. That said, I’m someone who loves working in the studio, working alongside other creative people. I find it difficult to find inspiration and motivation when I’m isolated. I’m looking forward to getting into the office and becoming immersed in the studio’s culture. Though I have this role, it remains a time of flux, especially for international students like myself. I only have a few months left in my employment-authorization period, and I have to sort out how I can move forward.
In the meantime, I try to stay in touch with my friends from RISD. It seems like most of us are settling in, figuring out how to navigate our professional lives. Some of us organize occasional Zoom calls in which we try to recreate the studio environment—basically, we work on our own thing but have the comfort of being in the “same space” as each other. It’s fun, but nothing beats actually being in a studio.