The Oxford Diaries: (5) The Break Down


In November, 2012 I applied to Oxford for the MSc course. I learned a number of things a long the way that I believe, or hope, will help future students sort of stuck in my situation. This series explores my graduate college life.

I haven’t written an Oxford Diaries post for some time and I did that on purpose. Partially because I had no time, and whilst being at school and living through the daily stress, I refused to relive it through words on the internet.

Secondly, it was because I had a complete and utter semi-breakdown this term and couldn’t find any gumption, any sort of feeling to share that vulnerability. The insecurities are still here but I’ve shoved it into the back of my mind. Plus, today I submitted my first graded paper, all 5000 words of torture and I thought, why not celebrate with blogging?!

Oxford Diaries 5.3

The Bodleian Library (it’s so big and stunning).

I Wish I Knew: The Emotional Toll Is Greater Than The Rest

What do I mean by this? When I was applying I remembered the stress, yes, and I remembered the hard work, the slugging through, the procrastination, what I forgot, however was the attack your emotional self takes at school! I have new found respect for PhD students! This term was difficult because I was told, in my first week, that I was far from good enough and I would fail if I didn’t ‘catch up fast’. Now, I thought the hard part was getting into this damn school, I forgot to think that staying would be even harder. This emotional toll was ridiculous. I remember during 4th week (here, every week we have a medium sized essay that’s ungraded, so it’s like practice and we have 4 large marked essays) I had another essay that I was completely struggling with. I didn’t know what the hell to write about and I before I got to my computer I slammed my fingers into the door. So what does a sleep-deprived, stressed 24 year old do? I just sat on the floor and cried, and cried, and cried. It didn’t even hurt that much but it was the last straw! I even scared the crap out of my partner because she had no idea how slamming my fingers could reduce me to 5-year old mode. It’s a bit funny now.

Oxford Diaries 5.4

Oh Academia, how can I not love you? And seriously, I had to take out this book.

I Wish I Knew: They Serve Drinks With Everything

Maybe this is a British thing and peep who go to other UK uni’s can let me know if this happens with them, but there is alcohol with everything! Have a seminar, want a drink? Go to a lecture, have some wine? See an exhibition opening, more champagne ma’am? It’s crazy! That being said, I drink but not tons so this was quite funny as I felt like alcohol was being shoved at me. I have to smile because there are many tipsy moments with professors because of it.

I Wish I Knew: Support Is Everything

I didn’t need much support in my undergrad so I was completely thrown to left field when I realised I needed more support than I was getting. I don’t mean I want someone to hold my hand, but be it from family, friends, partners, supervisors or your cohorts, seek support where you can. I found, especially, that as students my cohorts and I were most unwilling to admit our failings and as such we isolated ourselves from each other. It was only when someone started crying in class (Not me) that I realised, we’re all going through the exact same thing.

This sculpture scared the life out of me one day when I looked up. I thought it was someone going to jump!

This sculpture scared the life out of me one day when I looked up. I thought it was someone going to jump!

Lessons From Term 1:

  1. Make a schedule for yourself and really, try stick to it.
  2. Schedule fun time as well! If you don’t you won’t stick to it.
  3. Make sure you see your friends (At least once a day, even if for 5 minutes only).
  4. But make sure you have you-time.
  5. Do. Not. Procrastinate.
  6. Find beauty in the small things (Like my little fox below!).
  7. You’re smarter than you think.
  8. Don’t take things personally, just take it as a learning lesson.
  9. Talk to your family, even when they don’t understand.
  10. Read for fun.
  11. Go to the gym.
  12. Candy won’t make you feel better or get that essay done, so drop it.
  13. Never mistake the power of colorful highlighters. They are your best friend.
Oxford Diaries 5.1

The first time I ever saw a fox in my life! I was SO excited, it was sitting right by my window.

So yeah this is a lot of whining and being an emotional blob, but my first term was horrid. I won’t lie, I disliked it completely. But I have just started term 2 now and I am determined to have fun and make the best of it. I’ve scheduled blogging, coding and movie times into my weekly schedule and I’m set on having fun, be it by going to see films, walking around exhibitions or going on walks (When it’s warmer, I believe the lack of sun was a serious problem for me emotionally, dude, it was dark all the damn time for 2 weeks straight), I’m going to leave this year with stories and smiles! And good grades. Yes.


About Claire (BWB)

It's Claire (aka Quirky) from Bitches With Books, an online book blog that serves up a healthy dose of book reviews, lists + literary madness.
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10 Responses to The Oxford Diaries: (5) The Break Down

  1. Rachel says:

    I totally understand what you mean about no support and emotional toll. I spent a year at University of St. Andrews, Scotland trying to get an MLitt in Museum & Gallery Studies. There was no support (got much more in undergrad) and the lady who was supposed to be my advisor was on sabbatical the whole semester, and it was a thoroughly frustrating experience for me as I always thought I was a good paper writer, and had never had a problem before, but everything was sub-par to them. The kicker was I researched my topic for the thesis for a month, then they told me there was no way I could possibly write it because my writing wasn’t good enough. So yeah, academically it was horrible for me, but I met a lot of really cool people living in the dorm and I still keep in touch with them. Thankfully getting a Masters the second time around was much easier back in the States.

    • Claire (BWB) says:

      Hey I am just seeing your comment! I’m glad I’ve seen it now though because I’ve just finished. I had a serious break down during my thesis. Like I nearly dropped out. I had no motivation, I had to see a psychiatrist because I was so close to a nervous breakdown. I’m wondering if it is even worth it to do a PhD in the UK or if I should shoot for the USA?

      • Rachel says:

        Well it’s entirely up to you. Depends on where you want to work afterwards. If you plan on staying in the UK, but all means do a PhD there. If you stayed in Europe, they would most likely accept their PhD anywhere. But if you want to work in the US, I would recommend getting one here because sometimes they don’t even recognize degrees from overseas. Most employers have no idea what a Postgraduate Diploma is over here until I explain it to them. I’ve known doctors from other countries that couldn’t get jobs over here because they didn’t get their degrees here and would essentially have to completely do over their education.

        • Claire (BWB) says:

          Thanks for the tips! I’ve heard of that dilemma before… problem is I’m not sure WHERE I want to end up. I’d prefer Canada to the USA… but I hate snow. Lol, I’m just confused and will probably apply to a million places and choose which ever give me a good deal?

  2. notesofabooklover says:

    Hi Claire, I’m so sorry that your first term was horrid 😦 I hope the next term will be better for you πŸ™‚ I agree with you that support from friends and family is really important and I hope that it will help you through this trying period.

  3. I absolutely LOVE Oxford, it’s one of my favourite places ever – such a gorgeous town!

    I know it’s a tough place to be, but keep going! It will totally be worth it in the end, plus you get to stay somewhere with all that wonderful culture. Admittedly, the university scares me too – it’s not nice to hear that, did they word it like that too? They could have said it a bit more delicately to be honest. Sometimes when things pile on top of you, even just the smallest thing can make it all come crashing down – make some time to relax, I know it’s a heavy workload but you have to balance =)

    We never had drinks during lectures and seminars! Openings yes, or drinks during public lectures yes – but not uni ones. Maybe it’s an Oxford thing? =o

    I’m glad to read that term two is going much better! Also, I love the tips – I may have to keep them for when I go off to do my Masters in September =)

  4. Tara says:

    I can’t believe someone told you that you weren’t good enough and that you would have to try harder to catch up. That’s a load of BS. Plus it’s TERRIBLE in terms of educational theory (it still kills me how many university professors know so little about good teaching practice). I’m sorry your first term was so horrid, but I’m so glad to see that you’ve been able to take a deep breath and start the second semester with goals and plans for self-care while you are embarking on this academic journey. Grad school can sometimes be a place of unnecessary competition and what we refer to as “peacocking” in our department — so I do hope your classmates can all put down their guards a bit and admit they are struggling, too. And I do think #7 on your list is the most important. You ARE smarter than you think, and you can do more and accomplish more than you think. Sometimes that’s not apparent when you are in the middle of things, but all will come together on your personal life journey. I look forward to hearing how term 2 goes for you!

    • Claire (BWB) says:

      Peacocking, is that the phrase because if so it totally makes sense now. Well I can say now, because I’ve just completed week 1 of term 2 and already it is MUCH better. After break and discussing things people are being a lot more open and a little more vulnerable (in the good way, not the needy way) and I’ve enjoyed this stressful and chaotic week tons more than all of last term combined. PLUS, I am taking a class that will kill me, yes, but I SO love it, it’s amazing and reminds me of why I came here.

      Thanks so much for your reassurance <3. I'm surprised also, that a big name school like Oxford would have such blunt and ridiculous teachers but to be honest, it's not so different from any other school. Education wise and teaching wise I've been quite frustrated and I hope to see some sort of change after our critique (we got to crit the teachers, it was terrifying).

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