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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.

RSC & The Oliviers | Tennant on DVD | British Library II | essay essay essay

Photo: Ferdaus Shamim/Getty Images

Photo: Ferdaus Shamim/Getty Images

This week has been a very tough week, but I’m using this post to focus on the awesomeness, MUCH OF WHICH is contained in the photograph above: the RSC Histories company winning THREE Oliviers. The photo is ridiculous in some ways – only Chuk Iwuji, as my friend pointed out, seems to know how to wear a suit in the accepted fashion, and why is Jonathan Slinger (Richard II and Richard III, for god’s sake) on his tiptoes at the back – but it’s also great, and hilarious, and I’m so glad they won. In rather less awesome news, RSC Sources (a really posh way of saying ‘Kath, with whom I  used to work, who is on Facebook, and lovely’)  say that the news that the David Tennant Hamlet will be put on DVD may have been a bit premature… which is a shame. I’ll be sad if the story’s false, but hopefully it will still happen sooner or later… in incredibly exciting Shakespeare news, the Cobbe portrait may (or may not) be another ‘life portrait’ of the writer. I hope it is, although I always imagined him milder and not so Elizabeth I about the nose and throat. But really, who has a portrait (I nearly typed ‘photo’) of a balding, long-haired Elizabethan with aesthetic tendencies on their walls for 300 years without considering it might be him? I suspect the Cobbes need their roof doing.

Today, I was back at the British Library, dealing with mercifully more helpful staff and a significantly more important manuscript. Even if the preliminary conversation (the gist thereof reproduced below) was like a sort of German farce:

Me: I am here for a manuscript. Look, my card.

Her: We know you not.

Me: I think you do.

Her: There is no manuscript here.

Me: It is quite an important manuscript. I had to get letters of approval. Please give me my manuscript.

Her: [indicates with look, word and gesture that she thinks my ever being approved to look in a mirror is unlikely] There is no manuscript. When did you order it.

Me: Two weeks ago. Let me speak to someone else.

Him: OH MY GOD, you want to see THAT MANUSCRIPT? It’s in a SAFE. A safe with LOCKS. Are you SURE, are you sure you won’t just VOMIT on it or possibly COLOUR IN WITH CRAYONS?

Me: I am quite sure.

Him: !!!!!!!!!! You need a LETTER FOR THAT.

Me: You are holding my letter. I can read the heading and the Brasenose logo through the paper.

Him: This is quite true. [gives] Where are you sitting? Oh my GOD, you’re sitting THERE? You want to look at that manuscript while SITTING THERE? As if it hadn’t just COME FROM A SAFE? Are you sure you aren’t just HIDING CRAYONS in your NON-EXISTENT CLEAVAGE?

Me: I need to write 11,000 words quite soon.

And so forth. All in all, though, a successful day; for the price of a 36-foot yacht, I was able to purchase the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever eaten, and further destabilise the methodology of a leader bibliographer (at least two of us are now writing essays the theme of which is primarily ‘[Bibliography X] is full of lies‘. But THEN, dear readers, after I had drawn big smiley faces over the priceless artefact completed my research, I went downstairs and into a room that was casually displaying the Magna Carta (I list this first not because I care but because I gather one is meant to), the LINDISFARNE GOSPELS, BEOWULF (ACTUALLY BLOODY BEOWULF, THE ONLY ONE, OMG), Sylvia Plath MSS, all sorts of sacred texts from world religions, GOWER, and PERSUASION. Sylvia Plath had writing like a cheerleader, the Magna Carta was clearly made by robots (and looks like a map of the desert), and if it’s medieval and came from the Cotton library, it probably had its edges burnt off during a fire in 1731. The exhibition doesn’t seem to be listed on the British Library website, but it’s free (like the rest of the library), so go, go in, and bear to the left.

Also, I went swing-dancing this week. My calves. My calves.

(other sustaining things here in OX4 – Jenny, Chloe, the fail king, my MCR, custard creams, using the word ‘torrid’ unnecessarily in my bibliography essay, implying Wilde had yet more boyfriends, Jay, m’boy, theselby.com and my new Primark habit. Yes, I know goods do not bring happiness but I have never been able to shake the belief that my life will be much better if I can only buy a lot of stuff. If stuff is edible,* so much the better).

*I am not saying the stuff Primark sells is edible.