The DPhil Diaries: New Year’s resolutions, work milestones and life in lockdown (again)

Culture Life

Image Description: Nupur Patel standing in front of the Radcliffe Camera

The DPhil diaries is a blog post series created by third-year Lincolnite and Oxford Student Life Columnist, Nupur Patel. Having spent a whopping eight years(!) at Oxford, it’s finally time for her to complete her final year at university and find some sense of normalcy along the way. Join her every week this term as she tries to finish that damn DPhil once and for all, admires Oxford’s hotspots, ponders life here and there and lives through the ups, downs and embarrassing moments that life has to offer!

It’s 0th week and I can’t quite believe we’ve already reached Hilary Term 2021! Christmas and New Year seem to have flown by and now here I am, back to the grind in my little work from home setup during what has so far been a very cold month! Plenty of blankets and cups of tea have been keeping me afloat, as well as binge-watching Netflix shows (especially Bridgerton and The Crown!) with the well-replenished chocolate stash that I always like to have in every corner of my room.

I have to admit that January isn’t exactly my favourite month of the year (apologies in advance to those with January birthdays!) – I’m not the hugest fan of the cold, dark and wet weather, and especially without any big event to look forward to and the third Lockdown that has been put in place, at times it has been difficult to feel positive and upbeat.

No doubt, many people are feeling exactly the same as me. As first week approaches, I’m bracing myself for another term in which things will be very different; no in-person events, friends and loved ones won’t be around, all completely necessary, but no less sad to think about. These realities have been a big reminder for me to check in on others who have been struggling with this news and to appreciate the fortunate position that I’m in to still be in Oxford with a great support network around me.

I’m bracing myself for another term in which things will be very different; no in-person events, friends and loved ones won’t be around, all completely necessary, but no less sad to think about.

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2021 is to not only live in the present a bit more, but also to appreciate what I have in my life, even the little things. It’s all part of me trying to be more mindful and maintain a generally positive mindset during such scary and uncertain times, whilst also leaving plenty of room to feel worried, upset, unmotivated and lethargic which we’ve all felt, I’m sure. 

Long runs and local walks (wearing plenty of layers!) in Christ Church and Hinksey Park feel like an absolute luxury – breathing in the fresh air and watching the trees rustle in the wind – as well as baking countless banana breads for my housemates to gobble up and playing a few evening games of Among Us with loved ones online. These are the small joys that I like to scatter across my week to counteract the low points that I’ve experienced and to remember that despite being a full-time DPhil student, my life is more than work and deadlines.

In fact, another big resolution has been to not put too much pressure on myself, especially when it comes to academic work, and to do the best that I can in what has been a terrible situation for all of us for almost a year now. Easier said than done, I know! Usually, every year I make more specific resolutions like exercising more and reading X amount of books in a year, but this whole situation has made me slow down a bit and think less about productivity and keeping busy and more about focusing on my wellbeing. 

As a student, especially when you’re in the thick of deadlines, your wellbeing as a priority can often fall by the wayside. Self-care, as well as trying not to be hard on ourselves, are super important, especially with all of the new restrictions and the difficulties that come with them. At a place like Oxford, it’s so easy to be consumed by work, productivity pressures and the raging Imposter Syndrome, but it’s critical that we take a step back and make sure that our wellbeing is always the priority.

At a place like Oxford, it’s so easy to be consumed by work, productivity pressures and the raging Imposter Syndrome, but it’s critical that we take a step back and make sure that our wellbeing is always the priority.

So I’ve tried to strike a balance between work and life and to enforce a routine in which I really do clock off at 5pm, instead of launching myself into ever-growing life admin and carrying on for ‘just a few more hours’. This newfound free time has been spent doing absolutely nothing, and I’m now wondering why I didn’t think about doing this eight years ago! Believe it or not, I haven’t really known how to do that for the past eight years, and as I gradually relearn, I’m feeling a lot better about my life.

On top of all of this, my housemates and I have tried to make the best of our situation and to find creative ways of spending our evenings. We did pretty well last month with countless dinners to celebrate Thanksgiving, Diwali, Hannukah and Christmas, but we figured that we’d move beyond feasts this month and get past the oh-so-many Zoom Pub quizzes and Among Us games. Whilst maintaining a fun cooking roster across the week, we’ve tried our hand at a murder mystery night, spontaneous kitchen raves – complete with a cheap disco ball – and chilled movie nights with all the snacks!

What’s more, this week one of our housemates got a wonderful puppy collie called Loki (the God of mischief- very fitting!), so we’ve definitely been enjoying some puppy playtime and cuddles morning, noon and night! There have been a few accidental wees and poos in interesting places (from our adorable furry creature, in case you were unsure…!) which has made mornings quite entertaining. At the start of this week, I had the pleasure of stepping my new bed socks in a little yellow puddle which was quite the morning wake-up call… Apart from that little mishap, he has been an absolute delight to have in the house! 

In a short space of a few weeks, I really have noticed a difference in the house in the New Year, a revived camaraderie and uplifting feeling that we can get through these hard times. And we really can. It’s plenty of fun and silly moments with my housemates that have made the prospect of finishing my DPhil a lot more manageable.

In a short space of a few weeks, I really have noticed a difference in the house in the New Year, a revived camaraderie and uplifting feeling that we can get through these hard times.

Speaking of the DPhil, I should probably talk about how that’s going! You’ve all stepped into my life at a time when a big academic milestone has recently taken place. After two and half years of hard work, frequent meltdowns and laptop issues, I’m proud to say that a couple of days ago I handed in my first full draft of my thesis to my supervisor! That’s right, all three hundred and something pages of what could possibly be a terrible thesis with a massively flawed argument have been sent off for my poor supervisor to read through! 

Such an achievement has felt like an absolute miracle after the year we’ve all had, and the DPhil process has by no means been a smooth-sailing one for me. I’ve had it all – writer’s block, panics about my project and existential crises about my future in academia. The trouble with the DPhil is that despite the exhilaration that you find in your research, sometimes you’re plagued with the thought of ‘Am I on track?’. It’s easy to question if you’re falling behind or not, especially right before the stage of producing something tangible like a chapter or a review.

Finally having something complete has been the confidence boost that I’ve needed after feeling lonely at times and incredibly guilty about my lack of motivation, especially over the past year, which isn’t what you want when you’re trying to submit your DPhil in a matter of months! If you’re a DPhil student, or any student out there, I’m sending you lots of love and solidarity! Degrees are tough and low points are normal, and in the midst of difficult times I’ve found it useful to reach out to a good support system of loved ones and to take as many breaks as I need to recover. 

At this particular moment of my DPhil I’m proud to have made it this far, and very grateful to have had the support of friends and family who have been through it all with me. I know that difficult times are still ahead, both with the pandemic and academic work, but in this not-so-normal 0th week I have shown myself that I can overcome them and so can anyone, especially if we keep being kind to ourselves. We can get through this. 

 

Image credit: Nupur Patel

 

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