DPhil Diaries Two: Getting into Oxford (!!!)

This is part two of my series documenting my life as a PhD history student at the University of Oxford. Read part one about the application process here.

The university website said eight to ten weeks from submission of application. I knew it could be any time from late February. But the wait to find out if I had a place to study my history doctorate seem to go on forever.

There had been university strikes and lecturers were behind with their current students, let alone in deciding on future ones. I sent emails, but all I was told was that I would find out "soon". I drove myself mad checking my emails every hour of everyday. From the beginning of March I had seen online that people were getting history offers from Oxford. I drove myself even more mad checking forums like The Student Room and seeing so many people receiving both offers and rejections.

Then, on 28th March I finally received the email. I was sorting waste paper into the bins at work (how glamorous) when the subject line of the email popped up on my watch. It was five minutes before the end of the day and I couldn't leave the room to check my phone. I felt sick and it seemed forever until I could leave and open the email.

Skimming the decision letter that was attached to the email, I was initially none the wiser. There was no "we're sorry..." at the start, or even a "congratulations". In the preamble it said they found my application of a "commendable standard". I was still waiting for the "But..." when the second paragraph confirmed that I was being made an offer!

I was amazed, and re-read the letter at least three times before phoning home to tell my parents. Saying the words "I got in to Oxford" first to them and then to my grandparents made it feel real and honestly, I don't think I've ever been so happy or excited. It was so much fun to be able to tell my friends and to know that everything I had worked for had paid off. More than just the awe of getting a place, it was a sudden release from all the stress I had been feeling.

The following weekend I went over to Oxford for the day. I think I walked around the whole time with a massive grin on my face, picturing myself living and studying in such an amazing place. I did the tourist things, visited museums, and bought myself a university sweatshirt. Being in the city, I couldn't comprehend that this was soon to be my university town, where I will get to read in the beautiful libraries and learn from such amazing scholars. I visited several of the colleges and although I did want the quintessential old, beautiful college, I knew I would be happy at any of them.

In between all my delight, the one remaining unknown was how I would fund my studies. I was being considered for the Oxford scholarships (this is done from one tick on the application form) but I had also spent a lot of time googling other bursaries and trusts which could provide funding.

What I didn't expect, or even dream of, was the email that dropped into my inbox on 3rd April. I was offered a place at Pembroke College and the Julian Schild Scholarship which would provide me with full funding for my entire course. At best I had been hoping for partial funding from the university, so I couldn't believe my fortune at receiving a full scholarship! It is truly an honour to have been selected, and for my research proposal to have been deemed worthy of such support.

Alongside my joy at receiving the scholarship offer, I was also thrilled to have been given a place at Pembroke College, where I had previously stayed for a summer school in 2012. It is a beautiful old college but with the benefit of modern facilities in their new quad.It's near the city centre, yet is one of the less touristy colleges. It was wonderful to now be able to picture where I would be in the city, especially as it was somewhere I already knew and held such fond memories of.

From this point, I set the date that I would leave my job and began the long countdown to the autumn. I can honestly say that six months have never felt so long. I worried about wishing away the summer but at the same time I felt like I was continually trudging slowly awaiting something that still felt forever away. I threw myself into reading journal articles and books that could provide me with background knowledge ahead of my course and gradually ticked off the days.

Having my place and my funding confirmed for so many months ahead of the start of the academic year made it a completely different experience from getting into Manchester at the end of my A-Levels. Then, my place was only confirmed with my results a month ahead of the move, and this time round the wait felt like an eternity.

I don't regret my decision to take a year out between MA and DPhil, even though I felt like I spent most of it waiting and looking forward to the following year. I know that I wasn't ready for, or even properly considering, PhD applications mid-way through my MA year, and I wouldn't be starting at Oxford if I hadn't taken the time I did to properly devote to my research proposal and application. It is also no bad thing to have spent the year saving money, or to have had a rest from university pressures and deadlines. However, there have also been so many times that I have just wished I could grab the remote control of life and press fast forward, to speed ahead to the end of September and to begin the biggest experience of my life.

I have no way to know what the next three years will hold. The certainty is that it will include a lot of hard work, but I also hope it will be full of so many amazing experiences and opportunities, with so much fascinating research and new things to learn.

As I post this blog, I am in my first week in Oxford and about to embark on Freshers' Week. It's all very new and exciting, and so far I still don't really know what I'm doing, but I already love Pembroke College and I can't wait to get stuck in to life here.

I hope to continue this series of "DPhil Diaries" throughout my degree. I want to show the realities of studying a PhD, something I had little knowledge of when I began my university career, and also to use these entries to immortalise and remember my experiences. I know the time will speed by, and I can't promise posts too often, but I hope to provide at least semi-regular updates as I go through.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Kathryn,
    I really enjoyed reading your articles. So delighted to hear about your perseverance and your success, you are nothing if not dogged. Obviously your research is related to World War One but what exactly are you embarking on? I would really like to know. Your Dad gave me the details of your blog when I was taking a group on my 'Cam and the Winterbothams' tour as part of Dursley Walking Festival. If you are able to contribute to next year's Walking Festival by leading a themed walk in Dursley, Cam or Nibley let me know. All the best for your studies, Jenny Parsons