This weekend, I finally received official notification that I’d passed my transfer of status, and can now call myself a “DPhil candidate”, rather than the (grim) Probationary Research Student.
This year, I’ve gone from unfunded to funded, PRS to DPhil, and now I’m actually sure I’ve passed transfer, I feel a little easier about blogging the fact that I’ll be taking up a College Lectureship at Keble College next term. It’s “non-stipendiary”, another grim term which makes it sound (misleadingly, hurrah) as if it’s not for dosh. I am very excited/scared (delete as appropriate, depending on when we talk about it).
Alex’s recent post about the transfer process (she has passed too, hurrah!) included important points about honesty & blogging. I was worried about blogging the transfer process (just like I worried about telling extended family and friends about it) in case I then had to tell them I’d be repeating it. This, even though I know a) everyone passes the second time, and b) amazing projects emerge from transfer 2.0. I worried, too, about telling people I’d passed and/or got the lectureship, in case either or both turned out to be administrative errors.
Worry (founded and unfounded) is a , shall we say, characteristic mental process of mine, and I definitely worry about hubris as a determiner of experience more than almost anyone else I know. Generally, I think that if I get complacent about something, it’s going to get taken away! This, despite a remarkably lucky life.
It would have been better for me to blog the whole process. I, too, am going to try and be more comprehensive about the DPhil process in my future writing. The problem, though, is that when things get manic and heavy, I go off-blog. When I’m really writing, I crackle with energy and day-old caffeine. I eat a lot of muesli (and other sensory atrocities), count words obsessively, and charge down the corridor to Sophie (my flatmate, I’m not having a psychotic break) so she can tell me how wonderful I am. Sophie has impressively grasped the principle on which my closest friendships are founded: total, ceaseless, reciprocal validation. I don’t need to know the details of a situation to know my closest friends are to be championed. I don’t need to be bogged down by petty, earth-based facts. I see the bigger picture, i.e. they rule. And vice versa. Ergo, when I bang on Sophie’s door to say ELEVEN HUNDRED WORDS, and dance a little jig in my PJs, she tells me I am both pretty and clever. Good.
When writing is bad, I want to weep. I mentally gain five stone. I hate writing, writing is hard, my research is total bullshit, others who claim work’s not going well are just lying, birdsong makes me savage and everything is ashes. My stupidity, leaking from my brain, drops and sticks onto my miserable, ready-meal-expanded arse.
When seminars are good, they’re exciting and provoking, and I come away with peers, role models, and a renewed joy in my academic community; Oxford, in every sense, is beautiful. When seminars are bad, I disagree with everything, fight sleep, and (returning home) discover a large red spot has grown on my nose. Free food gets spilt on me. My postgrad colleagues morph before my eyes into impossible paragons of grace and genius, who will claim all the jobs and speak of me in regretful postscripts. I spill more free food on myself.
When work is going well, it’s the best thing in the world and I know I’m where I’m meant to be. When work’s going badly, it’s the worst thing in the world, and (un)fortunately, I still know it’s what I’m meant to be doing just now. Luckily, Oxford has given me two brilliant supervisors, and patient friends, all willing to answer emails with humanity.
So far, I have always loved my topic, even when driven to intermittent despair by temporary inabilities to render it in good prose, find the key (so far, every chapter has had one, but it requires terrifying faith to believe it’ll emerge, each time), be at the Bod for 9, or use Cite While You Write.
Anyway. I’m delighted to say that I shall keep on keeping on with my DPhil, and that the blog will keep on as well.
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.