The DPhil Diaries: Taking Myself on a Date, Academic Marathons and Atypical

Image Description: Nupur Patel’s DPhil Diaries

This week, I’ve been trying to enjoy a few of the sunny days that February has already gifted us with. When I’ve seen the sunrays hitting my window in the morning, I’ve instantly felt better and eager to get outside for a bit of fresh air. With the floods in Oxford I haven’t been able to walk around too much of Christchurch Meadow as I usually do at lunchtime, but it has meant that I can enjoy a bit more of Hinksey Park and the fields that surround it. Past the train tracks and over the bridge, there’s a really scenic part of South Hinksey with a stream and a little quaint village. It sounds a little silly, but coming from a big city, every time I visit that part of Oxford it feels like I’ve stumbled upon a bit of untouched paradise with lots of green space, thatched rooves and an old village church!

At the weekend I also made my way to University Parks as part of my decision to take myself on a date. In fact, I spent the whole of Sunday completely by myself, away from my computer screen and the life admin that seems to keep torturing me every week! It was bloody glorious. It might sound a bit odd to some people but I try to have days like this every month or so: just being completely on my own. As much as I love my housemates, sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of alone time to recharge my batteries, especially at a time when we’re all bogged down with screen fatigue and the busy weeks of online classes and zoom catchups. That day, I had a nice lie-in and after breakfast, I decided to walk around Oxford and enjoy a bit of the surrounding nature. On my way to University Parks, I took in the peace and quiet of the town centre, treated myself to a chai latte from The Horsebox Coffee trailer outside the Natural History Museum (they also have delicious brownies which I suggest trying!), and smiled at the occasional passer-by as I had Selena Gomez’s Rare playing in my ears. After a few hours out and about, I headed home to return to a cup of tea and a good book in hand (I’m currently reading Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage – highly recommend!) and lots of blankets to keep me warm! I must’ve stayed like that for a good few hours, with an occasional break to grab some of my banana bread from the kitchen. In the evening, I decided that the treats needed to continue, so I put on some feel-good Friends episodes and ordered myself a pizza from Franco Manca. I very rarely buy takeaway, mainly because I’m on a tight budget like every student here(!) but I think it’s necessary to indulge yourself now and again. Besides, my body was craving mozzarella! I ended the night with some cheap facemask that I picked up at Boots and melted chocolate and strawberries using a very cheap fondu set that I picked up from Flying Tiger a few months back. I think Tiger is arguably one of my favourite shops of all time. It’s full of great little nick-nacks that are cheap and cheerful and during this lockdown, these little objects have made my evening activities a little bit more creative.

In retrospect, I think this little date of mine was very much needed, considering that I am now swamped with thesis corrections! At the beginning of the working week, I finally got back the initial feedback from my thesis and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it wasn’t a complete disaster. Thankfully, there aren’t any huge flaws in my argument but there is definitely A LOT of work to do to make the thesis as strong and polished as it can be. From my brief conversation with my supervisor, it all seems very positive and yet I’ve found myself fretting about it. During the first couple of days, I found ways to avoid opening the word document – writing articles and blog posts, answering emails and even baking yet another banana bread… I’ve noticed that now and again I fall into this trap with work. I’m so scared about what I’m going to find in my feedback that I just put it off, even if I know that I need to start cracking on with work as soon as I can. Am I the only one? I guess I’m feeling this way because I’m also a little fed up with work. I’ve been told by friends who have already submitted that in the run-up to the thesis deadline this is a completely normal feeling; you start to get sick and tired of your project, reading through the same chapters again and again and dealing with formatting nightmares. After three years of ups, downs and occasional dead-ends, you want this thesis to be done as soon as possible and despite knowing that it’s a wholly unachievable expectation for the thesis draft to be perfect the first time around, you wish that you had at the very least minimal corrections so that you can just send it off and never look back.

Taking time to improve my work will only make it stronger in the long run and while it seems really slow and (very) boring, the light at the end of the tunnel is there and I’m a lot closer to it than I think.

I’ve definitely been guilty of these thoughts this week. It took hashing it out with a friend to snap me out of my trance and finally launch myself into corrections. She reminded me that while it’s natural to be fed up with looking at my thesis, in the end, feedback, as scary as it is, is there to make it better. Taking time to improve my work will only make it stronger in the long run and while it seems really slow and (very) boring, the light at the end of the tunnel is there and I’m a lot closer to it than I think. She also reminded me of something that I relied on when I was stuck in Finals mode a good few years ago. At the time, I found the experience quite tough and as the exams approached, I was fed up and I just wanted to get everything done and dusted even though I felt extremely unprepared. In the midst of my stress, a lovely tutor told me that Finals was a marathon and not a sprint; it was important to remember that things take time and all of these short term dips wouldn’t matter in the long run; it’s was about thinking about the bigger picture. As simple as it sounds, hearing this again helped to put things into perspective and to remind myself that it will get better despite my current low point. Now that I am in the swing of correcting my thesis, I have realised that it’s not as bad as I thought, even though I have found out that I am indeed the Queen of typos! It’s easier said than done to just stay positive with work; I still struggle to not feel frustrated with it now and again, but I’m also trying to hold on to the fact that all of this slogging will eventually pay off.

My frustrations with work have also been a sign to take a few more breaks this week. As usual, evenings have been a work-free zone and partly occupied by quality time with my housemates. This week was Candlemas in France, so our resident French pro pancake-maker, Erwan, cooked up a storm in the kitchen with delicious galettes and crêpes. Loki has continued to be a source of joy in our lives, this week he has successfully learned how to roll over and give us his paw for treats. Such a clever dog! We’ve also found our way back to Among Us, and I can’t tell you how rubbish I am as an imposter. ‘Nup sus’ tends to be the common phrase in our Discord chat at the moment…

I’ve also made a new TV show discovery this week. I know that I’m very late to the game but I’ve absolutely loved watching Atypical on Netflix. I’ve just finished the third season! The show follows the story of eighteen-year-old Sam who tries to navigate life – high school, relationships, friendships, etc – often with the help of his family, including his sometimes annoying but incredibly supportive sister, Casey. I guess this show has spoken to me because I have a sister who is on the autistic spectrum and Sam’s character really reminds me of her. My sister was diagnosed when she was thirteen and in her short life, she has had many of the same struggles that Sam has had. Watching him and his family deal with all of these challenges has been like looking in a mirror, reliving the experiences that my family and I dealt with, trying desperately to get the right support and resenting the stigma and lack of understanding that a lot of people have about people with autism.

Sometimes you come across a TV show that completely changes your perspective on life. For me that is Atypical.

Maybe I’ll talk about this in more depth in another Oxstu article but for now, I guess it’s worth saying that despite the pain of revisiting these memories, it has also been quite therapeutic. For once in a very long time I’ve spent a bit of time processing the past, reflecting on our struggles and triumphs as a family and how I can be the best sibling to my sister, like Casey is to Sam. Sometimes you come across a TV show that completely changes your perspective on life. For me that is Atypical. While it’s not a perfect show, it has deeply moved me. I’ve shed many tears across the seasons because some of the scenes have felt so real. At other moments I’ve laughed and loved as the characters, especially Sam, have blossomed. Most of all, the show has given me a huge sense of pride about the accomplishments that my own sister has already made in her life despite all of the obstacles that she has faced. I don’t want to give away any spoilers from the show, but the big events have really strengthened the hope that I have for my sister’s future.

3rd week has been a week of ups and downs, fears and hopes, and that’s okay. In the midst of our difficulties, we’re all just doing the best that we can and that is always enough. I hope that you’re all keeping okay and I wish you a very restful weekend ahead.

Image Credits: Tian Chen – The Oxford Student Creative Team