The DPhil Diaries: Thesis edits and a hint of nostalgia
Image Description: Nupur Patel’s DPhil Diaries
As we reach closer to the end of term, things have gotten a lot busier with work. For most students at Oxford, it’s usually the opposite case. The last two weeks of term normally mean wrapping up courses: handing in final problem sheets, essays and translations and going through the last classes, tutorials and seminars of term before what is most likely a few weeks of catching up on sleep! Alas, not for finalists like me who are handing in their 80,000-word theses in a matter of months!
My final deadline is the end of April, just as Trinity Term kicks off. As a way of focusing, I have the date firmly entrenched in my mind: a few sticky notes with the final date are posted around my room, alongside a few motivational comments like ‘You can do it!’ and ‘You’re doing great!’ to fill my days with some positivity. Every morning when I look at my calendar, my eyes circle that final end goal; there’s a mixture of excitement and fear that quickly takes over me, but most importantly, a feeling of amazement. It might sound a bit silly to say but I really am amazed that I’ve gotten this far in the DPhil journey, not because I didn’t believe in myself in the first place, but because when I first started the DPhil, everything felt so far away that I couldn’t even imagine the runup to my final submission. I spent my first year exploring different avenues, at times getting a little lost at sea, but also enjoying the process of having the freedom to look at whatever interested me. When second year arrived, I was trying to churn out chapters on top of teaching, the MCR Presidency and catching up with friends and family. By the time the start of third year hit, I was still blissfully writing pieces of work here and there and trying to navigate online learning in a pandemic. As the final two months have arrived, it has felt quite surreal. I’ve watched many friends get to this point and successfully finish their DPhils without really thinking about what my own submission would look like. Now that it’s almost here, I’ve believe more than ever that the DPhil really is a journey, with many highs and lows, and I’m proud of myself and others for getting this far.
What I mean by that is finally coming to terms with letting things go and preparing myself for a new chapter of life.
Knowing that the final goal is so close has really boosted my determination to get that damn DPhil done once and for all! So far I’ve enjoyed the process of editing and despite footnotes being the bane of my existence, it has felt good to get to this point in the game. Having spoken to some DPhil friends, especially those who have recently submitted, this last hurdle can be really stressful, and I certainly have felt that, but it’s also a really useful time to gain closure from the whole experience. What I mean by that is finally coming to terms with letting things go and preparing myself for a new chapter of life. After the DPhil, I will be swiftly transitioning out of academia, so these final weeks will be especially helpful for me to enjoy the last moments of academic life and find joy in a project that I have been so passionate about for many years now.
This week I received a huge chunk of my thesis comments back and I promised my supervisor that I would have a second full draft of the thesis to give him by the end of 8th week. Hopefully this new draft will be very close to the final product! I’ve momentarily put down RuPaul’s Drag Race (though I’m already on season 4!) and really buckled down with cutting down my thesis by around 15,000 words! It sounds like a huge amount, and it is, but I’ve always found this part of the process to be easier than the typical restructuring arguments and refining my writing style. For any dissertation that I’ve written, I’ve always produced more than the required word limit (with far too many repetitive paragraphs!) and because I’ve had to cut down for the final draft, I’d like to think that I’ve gotten much better over the years at being ruthless about what to take out of my work. Usually I take out paragraphs that have repeated what I’ve already said! This week, I’ve set myself a small target to cut down a certain amount of words each day while making sure that I haven’t lost anything important in the storytelling process. A combination of The 1975 and Jameela Jamil’s ‘I Weigh’ podcast have definitely kept me going through the long days as well as my usual walks around surrounding green spaces.
I’ve thought about various graduations, special dinners in hall and college balls; even on my way back home I’ve smiled looking back at the times when I’ve returned home from a college bop with my tongue dyed blue from those sickly sweet Lincoln Blue cocktails!
A few moments this week the sun graced us with its presence which has lifted my mood immensely. It’s not even summer yet, but with a little bit of good weather, my housemates and I thought it was time to bring out the barbecue and bask in that 12 degree heat with a hamburger and cider! Embarrassingly, the sunglasses were out and I was sitting outside on a deckchair staring at the daffodils in our back garden. It reminded me of the wildflowers that grow in the front garden of Lincoln College Library during spring and summertime. I love studying there, especially when the sun comes through the big stained-glass windows and lights up all of the old paintings and statues scattered across the upper floor. Suddenly the work that I need to get through that day doesn’t feel so cumbersome and after a few hours of reading, I look forward to the afternoon when I can enjoy a bit more of the warm weather with friends in Lincoln’s grove quad. With my work-from-home setup being the norm for the past year or so, I’ve reminisced about many of these moments that I’ve often taken for granted.
This week many more of those moments have cropped up – when I’m out on walks I’ve thought about the birthday picnics and exams’ trashing experiences I’ve had in Christ Church Meadows; as I’ve passed Lincoln’s front quad to pick up mail, I’ve thought about various graduations, special dinners in hall and college balls; even on my way back home I’ve smiled looking back at the times when I’ve returned home from a college bop with my tongue dyed blue from those sickly sweet Lincoln Blue cocktails!
Knowing that in many ways I’ve already made the most of my time here has made it that little bit easier to eventually let go of Oxford.
I’ve always been a nostalgic person, pining for the past and sometimes not fully appreciating what is happening right before my eyes. It’s not always a helpful feeling, but I think that for right now in my life when I’m close to leaving Oxford for good, being nostalgic has been quite helpful. I’m very privileged to have had a number of Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity Terms since the age of eighteen, and while I’ve missed out on some final moments this year, like everyone else, reminiscing about the good times had reinforced to me that I’ve already got a lot of great memories to cherish. Knowing that in many ways I’ve already made the most of my time here has made it that little bit easier to eventually let go of Oxford. Likewise, although my final year is not what I expected it to be and despite the hardships that the pandemic has brought, I’m really thankful that I’ve had great housemates around me who have encouraged me to be more creative and appreciative of my time here. I’ve celebrated and enjoyed a lot of events that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise and I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy Oxford’s wonderful sites all this time. While none of this cancels out of the difficulties myself and others have had, they do remind me that we’ve all done our best to keep positive and these moments are just as valuable to me as the ones I’ve made with people pre-pandemic.
In the space of eight years, I’ve had some of my most formative experiences- good, bad and (VERY) ugly – and I don’t have any regrets. As more memories enter my mind, I’m slowly making peace with saying goodbye to Oxford and moving on to an exciting future elsewhere.
While many of you are far from Oxford right now, I hope that some of your memories with friends at Oxford have kept you going and looking forward to a time when we’ll all be reunited again. As 8th week arrives, I wish you a fantastic final week of Hilary Term and an exciting step closer to a very restful break.
Image Credit: Tian Chen vis The Oxford Student Creative Team