Image Description: The DPhil Diaries
Can you believe it? We reached 8th week! I’m sure many of you are really excited and relieved to have gotten to this point. I wanted to personally congratulate you all on making it to the end of term. What with lockdown and everything that comes with it, this term has not been easy. There have been a lot of hurdles to overcome, so well done for getting this far. I hope you’ve all got a lovely break ahead during the vacation with a lot of self-care, resting up and enjoying Spring as the weather gets a little warmer. I for one will be going to the Alternative Tuck Shop as much as I can in the coming weeks- that is self-care 101 to me!
I’m certainly very happy to have reached this point in term. I’ve always found Hilary term to be the hardest of the three – the weather and shorter days have really affected my mood in the past, this term always feels busier than the others, and it doesn’t quite seem like there are a number of exciting events to look forward to just after Christmas and just before Spring arrives. By the time Friday of 8th week hits I’m left feeling absolutely shattered. Despite all of these truths, this term has been ever so slightly different. As I’ve come a lot closer to the final submission date (only six weeks away now!) I’ve tried to really enjoy my final moments with Oxford and focus on the positive. Granted, this hasn’t always been the case, because I am, of course, human like everyone else. But I will say that this time in my life has certainly made me stop in my tracks a little more and appreciate the things that I am very privileged to have in my life.
At times you have amazing moments where you stumble upon some golden ideas, other times you face dead ends or uncertain areas which can be really tough to deal with.
For that reason, I’ve really tried to enjoy the last moments that I have with my thesis, which has been a project that I have absolutely loved pursuing. I’ve particularly enjoyed looking over my work in recent months because finally I can see the story that I was trying to tell all along. When you begin a DPhil, whether it’s in the arts or the sciences, everything is very much up in the air. You have an idea, usually a couple of hypotheses, and from there you go out into the big world of research and find things as you go along. At times you have amazing moments where you stumble upon some golden ideas, other times you face dead ends or uncertain areas which can be really tough to deal with. My supervisor often calls it being ‘lost at sea’ and he would always encourage me to embrace the feeling of not being in control, which is the beauty of research. It was scary for me to let go but it was also very thrilling not knowing which direction my project would go in. Looking back to when I started, my thesis has come a long way and I have discovered things that have made me burst with enthusiasm. They have made the “dead ends” and other frustrations very much worth it. What’s more is that at this point in the submission process, I’ve finally had my “lightbulb moment”. After years of writing chapters that have felt so separate, now I can see all of my pieces weaving themselves together into one body of work. In the past I’ve had friends tell me this would happen and I honestly didn’t believe them. I thought that it would be really difficult to tell a story with what I had produced and with the thesis feeling so far away, everything felt very uncertain and terrifying. Alas I was very wrong. This discovery has very much renewed my passion for this project and fully reinforced the fact that the thesis really is a marathon, not a sprint. Things take time to flourish and finally I’m seeing all of my hard work truly pay off. I’m finally at the point where I know that I have something important to contribute to my field and it feels great. Take that, imposter syndrome!! To any DPhil students out there, your time will come. If you’re having a difficult time right now, know that things will get better and your fantastic projects will come together – keep the faith!
It seems a little odd to talk about what exactly my project is about, seeing as this probably should’ve been mentioned in the beginning, but I’ve become so passionate about it, especially in the last couple of months now that I can finally see a trajectory emerging from my work. My research looks at responses to modesty in sixteenth century French women’s writing and women writer’s relationships to print and various collaborators that help them to get into print. It’s a passion project which is really concerned with recovering lost voices and showing the ways in which my women writers challenge, reconfigure and undermine patriarchal discourses that serve to oppress them. While it has been a project that I’ve shaped, with the help of very my very generous supervisor and colleagues, it has also shaped me in return. Over the years, it has really made me think about my own agency, and the impact that I can have as an ally to speak up and use my voice for positive change. I’ve been so inspired by the bravery of my chosen writers, as well as the people I’ve met during my time at Oxford, to do what I can to leave the spaces which I inhabit better than when I found it. Whether that has been being MCR President in my College, taking part in access and outreach projects or listening, these experiences have been just as valuable to me as writing the thesis.
I’ve very quickly realised that actually part of the fun is going into things by letting go of control a little.
Indeed, my time at Oxford has taught me a lot of lessons that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I came here when I was 18 years old, very naïve and carefree, and I hope that now at the age of 26, I have bit more wisdom and confidence under my belt. I’ve had so many highs and lows here, I’ve met such wonderful people and have been confronted with issues that I’ve never had to face before. As a microcosm, the University has exposed me to different views and perspectives, it has offered me some challenging times but also wonderful opportunities that I have really benefitted from. All of this has come with a discovery about myself as well as who I want to be in the future. As I said in my last blog post, I’m a bit of a nostalgic person. When I walk into town, I’m confronted with lots of memories that sometimes make me see Oxford with rose tinted glasses, but also appreciate how much time I’ve had here. This past year, I’ve reflected a lot on my relationship with change, and often it has been a scary one. I’ve never fully enjoyed throwing myself into the unknown; I enjoy knowing the familiar and knowing every detail about what I’m doing. But life doesn’t work like that; it throws us all curveballs and they don’t necessarily have to be bad ones. I’ve very quickly realised that actually part of the fun is going into things by letting go of control a little. With change comes scary times, but also new windows of opportunity. It’s always hard to say goodbye to a place that you’ve called home for so long, especially a place which holds so many fond memories, but there’s a big old world out there that is calling out our names! I’d like to believe that we always leave a piece of ourselves in every place that we’ve called home, and leaving it is not leaving it forever. To all my loved ones in Oxford, I will be visiting whenever I can!!
I will truly miss Oxford. I have grown immensely here and saying goodbye as a student does feel like saying goodbye to the past Nupur, as dramatic as that may sound. But it’s inevitably time to move on and experience something new, meet new people and embrace what this new chapter has for future Nupur. I’ve made peace with saying goodbye soon and I’m excited for what the future holds.
Speaking of change, I guess this is the point in my blog post when I say thank you to all of you and wish you a very heartfelt farewell. This is my last article for the Oxford Student as their Life Columnist for Hilary Term and all I can say is that it has been a massive pleasure writing for them. Thank you to the editors for giving me this opportunity to talk about my experience of being a DPhil student at Oxford, and a very special thank you to you all for joining me on this rollercoaster of a ride this term.
even if people don’t like what I write, others might.
The truth is that up until the first Lockdown, I was really scared to put myself and my writing out there. It’s a very daunting and vulnerable thing to do. In the past I’ve had my confidence completely knocked by people who have mocked my writing, and after this big blow it took me a very long time to get back on the horse again. But last year a really fantastic staff member at Lincoln once said to me that our strength lies in our vulnerability, which is completely true, and even if people don’t like what I write, others might. I want to thank you for taking the time to read about my personal experiences; hopefully there have been parts of my journey that you can relate to, whatever point of your studies that you’re in. I hope that my transparency about the highs and lows of my degree has been reassuring in some way.
As I’ve said many times in this series, studying at Oxford is in many ways wonderful, but it can also be incredibly challenging, combined with other difficult experiences that life can throw at us. Being honest about how we’re doing and reaching out to others about how you’re feeling is always something that I endorse and I hope that I have communicated this in my DPhil Diaries series.
I wish you all the absolute best for the rest of your time at Oxford and hope that despite the difficult times we’re all in, that you’ve had moments of joy and laughter. Long may they continue!
Image Credit: Tian Chen via The Oxford Student Creative Team