The DPhil Diaries: Confronting my Fears, Zoom Fatigue and Resetting Habits

Culture Life

Image Description: Nupur Patel’s DPhil Diaries

The last time I noted down my thoughts here, I was in a bit of a miserable place with my DPhil. In all honesty, I was bored, fed up and anxious about the thought of getting stuck into corrections and preparing for a second draft. Being so close to the DPhil submission, I was at a stage where it felt so close and yet so far away. Still to come were yet more restructuring, formatting corrections, and cutting down a gazillion words. Last week I couldn’t bear to have another week of the same misery, so instead of wallowing in this for too long, I had a bit of time off and prepared myself to finally take the plunge and confront my fears. After all, while these tasks are irritating to think about, in the end they’re there to make my thesis the best that it can be and with the support of my fantastic supervisor I know that I can achieve this.

4th week has been a lot more positive in this respect. I finally opened the word document that I was dreading and I slowly made my way through corrections, one step at a time. I have to admit that I haven’t completely shaken off the feeling of boredom and frustration, it has creeped in now and again, especially in the late afternoons when I’ve struggled to stay motivated. While in some cases we can suddenly feel a lot better about a situation, sometimes things don’t always dramatically shift, but instead they gradually improve over time. So I’ve tried to not beat myself up about my current state of mine and when I do become a little agitated again, I’m straight out of the door for some fresh air.

While in some cases we can suddenly feel a lot better about a situation, sometimes things don’t always dramatically shift, but instead they gradually improve over time.

During corrections, I’ve also turned to music to keep me as serene as I can be. A few weeks ago I mentioned that Britpop was guiding most of my studying, but now I seem to have returned to some of the oldies but goodies: A-Ha, Rick Astley, Toto, Blondie, or pretty much anything on Magic FM. I know, I know, it’s not really keeping up with the latest hits, but this kind of music always makes me nostalgic for the good moments in my life. I love revisiting songs that remind you of different moments in your life, especially from childhood. Growing up, my dad used to play Magic FM during car journeys and as a family we would sing and laugh together. The occasional neighbouring driver would be amused at our attempts to belt out notes like Whitney Houston! It’s a nice memory to have in the back of my mind as I’m in Oxford and miles away from family. While it might risk waves of sadness coming into my life, it has actually helped me to stay connected to them in the distance. Not to mention, that half of the songs remind me of all of those nights dancing on the cheese floor in Park End, with my friends and I singing our hearts out. Ah, good times! Likewise, staring at my wall of photos, with goofy images of friends and family during some momentous events – weddings, birthdays and holidays – have sometimes made me laugh out loud and at the very least smile.

Being in the middle of this slight academic slump has been an important reminder to also check in on others who have no doubt been quite frustrated and sometimes disheartened with work and the other challenges that life has thrown at us. After the various online talks and classes in the normal 9-5 period, I’ve found myself trying to schedule a few more Zoom catch ups across the week: I’ve touched base with some of my Lincoln Links (equivalent of college children) who have been subsequently bombarded with lots of memes and adorable pictures of Loki, I’ve had my own virtual whisky night with some old pals from Lincoln MCR (who very graciously put up with my moaning about the DPhil!) and I even got in touch with some pals who I haven’t properly chatted to in over six months.

It’s exciting but also quite overwhelming to think about how far we’ve come and how fast time can fly by!

A particular highlight was catch up with Rebecca and Johnny, a German couple that I met on my year abroad in Montpellier over five years ago now. We’ve been in each other’s lives for a long time and so much has happened – I attended their wedding back in 2017, we’ve visited each other in our different homes across the years and now they’ve told me they’re expecting their first child! Hearing about their news has instantly made this week a lot better; I’m so excited for their new journey ahead and the prospect of being the British aunt to spoil this baby rotten! I have to admit that at the same time it was a bit of a reality check. Once I ended the call I thought to myself, ‘Wow, we’re all getting older!’ Bit of an embarrassingly obvious statement there, Nup… But it’s really surreal to think that our friendship began as us mucking around in the south of France for a year in our early twenties, with fewer commitments, partying on sticky dance floors and travelling the country with just our backpacks. Now we’re here, with me completing a PhD and them finding their dream jobs and owning a home for the first time. It’s exciting but also quite overwhelming to think about how far we’ve come and how fast time can fly by! Who knows what the rest of our future looks like, but I look forward to finding out!

I guess Zoom fatigue has become a huge part of our lives now. It’s slightly annoying because it’s a sad reality with all of us being separated; for many of us being stuck on Zoom or other platforms has been the only option to try to maintain our relationships.

I have absolutely loved reconnecting with friends and family, but I have to admit that it has been a little tiring. After a long day of being on Zoom for talks and classes, my eyes hurt after putting in a few extra hours on my computer screen in the evenings. Not to mention, that I have felt absolutely shattered after all of the catch ups. Speaking to friends virtually is a saving grace during this pandemic but it is completely different from catching up in person! I guess Zoom fatigue has become a huge part of our lives now. It’s slightly annoying because it’s a sad reality with all of us being separated; for many of us being stuck on Zoom or other platforms has been the only option to try to maintain our relationships. As a side note, it has been entertaining seeing how many more awkward silences there are in our group conversations when we’ve run out of things to say. This week, I had many people ask, ‘Have you been up to anything exciting recently?’ and I’ve struggled to find anything remotely interesting to say beyond, ‘I’ve mainly been working on my thesis… you?’ followed by the same comment, ‘Not much here, to be honest…!’ With the more regular weekly calls, my friends and I have turned these ‘no news’ talks into a bit of a running joke, and we usually follow up with a funny article or bit of news to get us talking. Jackie Weaver was a particular talking point this week especially after watching Jack Edwards’ video, and all I can say is that in my book Jackie (aka Britney Spears) has ALL the authority! Absolute icon.

The tiredness that I’ve felt after zoom calls have been partly fuelled by my battle with securing a good routine. In all honesty, the last couple of weeks I’ve gotten a little bad with my bedtime. We’ve had a few late nights as a house this week, which started off from celebrating the Superbowl with the greatest of feasts. While it was a brilliant event, I did find myself struggling to get up on a Monday morning with a mass of thesis corrections to get through. Even when I’ve managed to get into bed by 10pm, I’ve found myself sometimes reaching for my phone and occasionally ending up in a rabbit hole after watching the most random crap on YouTube. Seriously, when I look back at my YouTube history I even baffle myself. Why on earth did I think watching a ‘Funniest cats compilation’ video was a good idea, followed by ‘Handforth Parish Council: The Musical’ at 12.30am?! What ensues is a struggle to get up to my ideal 7am alarm clock and a slightly later start to my working day. Not to mention that by the early afternoon, the breakfast tea has worn off and I’m dragging myself through a couple more hours of work before dinner time. I feel like this has been a big sign to reinstate some boundaries.

One of the biggest things has been leaving my phone across the other side of the room at the end of the night and replacing it with a good book. In the day time, I’ve tried to tire myself out with a bit more exercise. As well as a bit of running here and there, I’ve been out and about with Loki on his walks, and he has exhausted me in an amusing way. As he’s gotten a bit more confident with his walks, he has enjoyed showing off a little to our neighbours, choosing to ignore commands, even when he’s bribed with a treat. We’ve had to stop and start at least 10-15 times during every walk just getting him to sit and avoid playing with every dog and passer-by who gets the slightest bit close to him! It is hard to stay mad at him, though; he seems to have mastered his innocent look pretty well that I tend to give into him without him doing much to rectify his naughty behaviour. A final helpful habit has been eating at the right time. Last week I tended to eat fairly late which shifted my relaxation time and bed routine to a few hours later. Now that I try and eat by 8pm at the latest, I’ve felt a bit more able to get into bed at my desired time of 11pm at the latest and feel ready to be accomplish things the following day. So far so good, I just hope that it sticks!

Accomplishments come in all shapes and sizes, and 4th week has been getting back into a better routine and trying to feel a little less lethargic across the working week. I hope that you’ve all had a few small or big wins this week and as we head into 5th week (halfway through term!) I’m sending you all lots of well wishes!

Image Credits: Tian Chen – The Oxford Student Creative Team

 

 

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