PRS to DPhil: the transfer viva

Passed my transfer! Slowly reappearing from my little pre-viva wormhole.

For those sufficiently blessed not to know, Oxford’s English students, on beginning their DPhil degrees, are actually known as Probationary Research Students. This is a terrible term, leading one to expect a clap on the shoulder at any time and/or immediate eviction from the EFL.

Whereas most of the Humanities degrees seem to allow you to “transfer” to DPhil status at any time up until your sixth term (end of second year), English wants you through by your third term. You submit 10,000 words and a thesis outline at the start of May, then have a viva a couple of weeks later. My lovely supervisor insisted it wasn’t a viva, it was an interview, which would have been more calming if she hadn’t been the only person saying that.

I’ve been thinking about how much of an academic’s job seems to consist of listening to students angst on, then refuse to take ANY of your advice until you’ve said it three times. This fairly obvious comparison struck me after I turned up in my supervisor’s office to find a poor finalist undergrad in a state of near-collapse about the impossibility of finals, her certain self-destruction, the sure knowledge that all other examiners/markers/tutors were Out To Get Her. My supervisor explained why all of that wasn’t true, and how she wasn’t going to fail, and how her work was good. My supervisor is currently “on sabbatical” and finishing a book. Yet, here she was in office hours, peeling this student, of whom she is both fond and supportive, off the ceiling. Eventually the student felt reassured and left to catch a train. My supervisor shut the door behind said student and then, to my immense guilt, had to repeat virtually the same pep talk to me.

Then both my supervisors had to do the same thing yet again, a couple of weeks later. Like our very first three-way conversation about transfer, my contributions  contained more myths and dark rumours about the process than an Oxbridge admissions thread. For example.

Actually, the whole thing was all right. Bloody frightening, not least because it was 1) at St Anne’s, approximately 45921 miles away, 2) on the day of a Biblical food, drenching steeples, drowning clocks and turning my tights into a wetsuit, but basically all right. My assessor’s office contained a great deal of fabulously theatrical furniture, and one nervous postgrad trying not to leave a rainfall-tidemark on any of it.

As a Victorian and former women’s college, St Anne’s consists equally of terrifying glass buildings, replicas of the New Bod, and hushed Victorian terraces made up of piano practice and bequeathed watercolours. They also have charming porters and excellent toilets. I attempted to dry myself in a succession of handdryers.

By the time I got into the room, my nerves were such that several of the questions no longer seemed to be in English, and although apparently they told me I was through at the start of the interview, all I remember is a wash of relief at “the chapter was good” which arguably blocked any further sound.

One of my assessors suggested I look much more at Elizabeth Robbins. I promised to do so (would have promised anything, but Robbins is so obviously the missing link that I wanted to hit myself on the forehead), said some dubious things about Bernhardt, and got a couple of dates wrong. I frequently failed to understand what I was being asked, and also couldn’t remember anything much about Lillie Langtry. Whoops.

Otherwise, I think it was all right. I did spend far too long talking about the fragant Jem Bloomfield, my co-presenter at Britgrad 2011. I don’t know. Then I walked home and changed my tights and went out for curry and slept the sleep of the inexplicably zombified.

Now, I just have to wait for Committee to meet and (touch wood) make it official. My supervisors are recommending me for transfer, and since my assessors are also recommending I go through, everything should be fine.. I don’t think there are any rogue elements left! I don’t understand why everyone can’t find out at interview – some assessors deliberately give no indication, and from what I can gather from past years, that doesn’t seem to affect the final outcome. I’m so grateful to know already.

Finally, I want to congratulate Brrnrrd and Betty Swallow on finishing English finals – both are amazing and full of present & future glory.  My friend Kate has today become Dr. Kate, and another friend, Claire, is officially 100 days from thesis submission. It’s beginning to look a lot like progress, at least in Central Oxford.

10 thoughts on “PRS to DPhil: the transfer viva

  1. Congratulations Sophie! It sounds hideous. I hope you’re now wallowing in champagne and looking forward to the rest of the DPhil.


  2. Thank heavens they told you then and there. You’d have been chewing the curtains by now if you didn’t know. xxxx


  3. Well done! But yes – it is mucho unfair that they don’t just tell everyone. I will continue chewing my nails for the next few weeks.


    1. I am SURE you will get through! A friend of mine didn’t hear last year for WEEKS and eventually emailed the Faculty, who told them. Apparently we also get reports, at some point?


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