The DPhil Diaries: Access and Outreach, A Renewed Hope and New Discoveries!

Culture Life

Image Description: Nupur Patel’s DPhil Diaries

It’s 6th week and my lunchtimes have been particularly busy lately. This term, midday has been the optimal time to get out for some fresh air. Especially this week, the sun has appeared quite often and the warmer weather has meant that I’ve stared out of my window more often than usual, counting down the hours till the afternoon when I can head outside and pretend it’s summer!

This walking routine has been pushed back a little since lunchtimes this week have been about the events that I’ve run as part of the Oxford First-Gen Society. As this year’s alumni coordinator, I’ve hosted a number of career Q&A sessions – from Law and Finance to the Arts, Education and Psychology, to name a few – on Zoom. I know, I know, at first sight, it probably wasn’t a great idea to schedule yet more hours on Zoom in the already Zoom-packed working week, but the reason for organising the events was because I’m sure a lot of students have the idea of the post-uni working world on their minds, especially in the pandemic when a lot of career opportunities have become more competitive than usual, or they’ve simply disappeared. Particularly for first-generation students, often the whole process of applying for jobs can feel pretty overwhelming. As a first-gen student myself, I found myself reaching the end of my undergraduate degree, panicking at the thought of not having secured an “amazing” internship the previous summer and having not even the faintest idea of what I actually wanted to do beyond the degree. This week it was reassuring to hear that this is actually super common amongst graduates and we don’t actually have to have our whole lives sorted aged 21!

as first-gen students a lot of this information about opportunities, which people to speak to, and different ways of getting exposure in various industries, aren’t accessible to us.

Having some amazing first-gen alumni speakers was a great chance to hear that from the horse’s mouth and to realise that there are so many different careers out there and lots of different routes to get there. One particular speaker said something that really resonated with me: as first-gen students a lot of this information about opportunities, which people to speak to, and different ways of getting exposure in various industries, aren’t accessible to us. The chances are that we don’t know many people, if any, in our ideal fields and we just aren’t made aware early on about how internships, job applications, etc work. Venturing into the world of work can therefore feel like being lost at sea. I have certainly felt that way as I reach closer to the end of my degree.

Of course, it’s not just job applications which can feel like a difficult space to navigate. I remember the experience of applying to uni and then getting to Oxford – it was quite challenging as I had no idea what I was doing. The whole process ended up being a big group effort. Of course I worked really hard on my own to get in but there were so many aspects of the process that were made easier because of the people around me. My aunts and uncles would take turns driving me to different open days, my French teacher would sit down with me after school to work on admissions tests (I guess it helped being the only student in the class!) and I remember my dad spending ages on Google trying to understand more about the application process. My comprehensive school was fantastic to me and they tried their best to support me and my family as much as they could. I recognise that I was very privileged to have this strong support network and without it my chances would’ve been much more difficult. So when I did get an offer, it didn’t feel like just my achievement, it felt like an achievement for everyone who helped me and a chance to improve my life and my family’s life. It sounds a little dramatic, perhaps, but it really did feel that way and my dad would always tell me that the hardships that he and my mum went through had finally paid off. Still to this day, without dismissing Oxford’s downfalls, I do feel like so many doors have opened up because of attending the uni.

Honestly, I think we all have a responsibility to do what we can to make things better for all students from disadvantaged backgrounds before, during and beyond higher education.

That wasn’t to say that my experience of Oxford was smooth sailing. Especially in my first year of Oxford, everything felt quite overwhelming. I saw myself as being leaps and bounds behind my peers and my imposter syndrome sky-rocketed. I felt like I had let my parents down in my struggles and talking to friends at home was sometimes challenging since Oxford is such a weird place to relate to if you’re not studying there. There wasn’t a quick solution for how I was feeling and for a good while I did struggle my way through. But it did get better and despite the numerous difficulties that I had, I met some wonderful staff and students who really uplifted me. Relying on societies like the Oxford First-Gen society and being a Crankstart scholar also helped me to find a community which felt more like home. Having this experience and wanting to make sure that others felt just as supported really pushed me to take part in access and outreach initiatives.

With a better understanding of the lack of access that first-gen students have and the difficulties that they face at Oxford, as well as the realisation of my own privileges, I became even more determined to join others in trying to make Oxford and applying to uni more accessible. Honestly, I think we all have a responsibility to do what we can to make things better for all students from disadvantaged backgrounds before, during and beyond higher education. I have been so amazed by the work of my peers in doing whatever they can to push for effective access and outreach initiatives – helping students to successfully apply to Oxford, fostering a more supportive and inclusive environment for them at uni and helping them to transition more smoothly into the working world. This week, talking to the various alumni speakers who are doing all that they can to make their fields more accessible has been so inspiring and it has fuelled an even bigger fire in me to keep doing what I can, however small, during my DPhil and beyond.

Another source of inspiration has been ignited this week in my work. After a disheartening few days dealing with the rejection of my journal article, I’ve now got a renewed sense of enthusiasm to tackle my work by the horns. While I wait for more feedback from my supervisor, I’ve spent the past few days trying to improve my article and to resubmit it to another journal. I’m proud to say that I sent it off a couple of days ago and I’m hopeful that this time around I’ll have a much better result!

After I had my moment of feeling down, I ended up reaching out to a good friend who submitted her DPhil not too long ago. She actually proofread my article before I sent it off the first time around and she gave me such a confidence boost after our chat. As she quite rightly explained to me, there’s an inevitability when it comes to rejections in academia but that doesn’t mean that my work can’t find a happy home in a different, more receptive journal. There’s no denying that experiencing rejection is a horrible feeling and sometimes you need to have a bit of moping around about it – we can’t always be stoic about life! Academia can be brutal but it can also be quite subjective and it only takes one differing opinion about one aspect of a piece of your work for it to be rejected. It was hard to accept it at first but my personal rejection didn’t mean that my article was rubbish or that it wasn’t convincing!

Formatting everything to another reference style was a legitimate nightmare but with a few tunes in the background, I got it done and even managed to schedule in a few dancing sessions in my room!

On top of this, by chance I ended up coming across a tweet from an academic who I greatly admire. She mentioned having an article rejected and struggling to reengage with her work in the immediate months of receiving the rejection. With the support and guidance of a colleague, she ended up reshaping the article and just found out that it was accepted! She admitted that she was glad that she persevered with her article and it was actually transformed into something a lot more interesting in the end – it was a great reminder for me to keep going with my own work and to think about how I can make it better.

And so with my friend’s words of wisdom and this very helpful set of tweets, I’ve now chosen to actually see this all as a good learning experience and to take on board what the reviewers said. I spent a good day just picking apart my article, trying my best to tighten my argument and work on a writing style that brings out the best of my points. Formatting everything to another reference style was a legitimate nightmare but with a few tunes in the background, I got it done and even managed to schedule in a few dancing sessions in my room!

Another reason for feeling a lot happier this week is because it has been a week of some new discoveries! Music-wise, my productivity levels have been completely reinvigorated by the wonderful Baby Queen. I’m a particular fan of ‘Raw Thoughts’ and ‘Want Me’. I first discovered her from all of the ads that usually bombard my watching experience on YouTube. I’m so used to getting the most bizarre and annoying ads about manscaping products, Grammarly and car insurance (before you ask, I literally have no idea why I get these ads… though Grammarly might be the universe’s way of trolling me because of my frequent typos…) that having ‘Vevo’s Introducing’ ads were quite a pleasant surprise. I was intrigued by Baby Queen’s style and honestly I think she is one of the next big things. Her lyrics are really clever, her sound is just so unique and infectious and, as a side note, I love the wry humour which she injects into all of her ‘Baby Queen’s Show’ YouTube videos. I’d highly recommend giving her songs a listen!

In other news, it’s so late to the game that it’s painful, but my friend finally introduced me to RuPaul’s Drag Race and quite frankly, I have no idea what I was doing with my life beforehand. I’m only a few episodes into the first season of the US Drag Race and I can already tell that I will be binge-watching all thirteen seasons, the All Stars seasons, plus the UK and Canadian versions before the end of term. From the conversations I’ve had with my friend, I’m looking forward to seeing how the show evolves with more important conversations about some of the issues that LGBTQ+ people face, as well as the Queens’ combination of sass, shade and sashaying that we all need in our lives. These final weeks of term have just become a lot more exciting!

As this week has ended with some warmer weather, I’m hoping that the sunny days stay for a while. Spring is in bloom and with it may there be more positivity, more self-care and more exciting discoveries! Wishing you the best for 7th week!

Image Credits: Tian Chen – The Oxford Student Creative Team, Nupur Patel


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