Closing the Year- A Week in the Life

26th June 2020

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Ann Ang (DPhil English, 2018) shares a week in the life of a graduate student in lockdown at her home in Singapore.

Working on her thesis, Ann moved home to Singapore towards the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. As she completes the final week of Trinity terms she shares her highs and lows of academic and non-academic life, from essay uncertainties and dengue fever to cat fights and publishing success.

  • Ann Ang and pictures from her week

    Clockwise from top left: At the computer; Fathers' Day dinner, Gracie the Cat; more books; out for a run

Monday

It’s the first (traditionally second) day of Week 8, Trinity Term and the last week of the academic year but it feels far from it, because there’s a lot to be done. The first draft of half of my thesis introduction is due Wednesday and while I have a seven-hour time-zone advantage at home in Singapore, there is a cascade of emails to send in relation to the last week of term.

As usual, I get up at 7.30am (or rather I turn off the alarm at 7.30am) and find myself at my work desk at 9am. I open my email inbox and decide the emails can wait till after lunch. Today I have the arduous task of trying to condense theoretical reading that I have done, on and off, over the past one and half years into a series of pithy, evaluative paragraphs on the developments in my field of postcolonial and world literature. There is a strange sense of a time-warp.

By lunch I’m relieved that I have a couple of paragraphs to add on to the ragged end of the document from last week. I send out a couple of feeler emails to current committee members on the graduate student publication I’m on, to see if they’d like to stay on for next year, ahead of Wednesday’s online meeting. I finish my writing quota for the day in the afternoon, and am looking forward to an evening online reading group meeting hosted by a Filippino writer-in-residence at a local literary nonprofit, where we’ll discuss short stories from the 1970s. 

Tuesday

I am back at my desk at 9am, and have what to me is the most exciting part of the introduction to write so far. It feels like a good day already because there are no online meetings or distractions. This is the bit where I make a strong case for an approach to reading Anglophone literature that I feel really adds to the scholarly conversation. Again there’s a sense of a timewarp, and I wonder how should I speak to the heavyweights in my field, while adding on observations of my own.

Mid-morning there is a flurry of whatsapp messages from my fellow editors at Food Republic. Our anthology has been prematurely announced by one of the contributors on social media. I promise them I’ll get the Food Republic Facebook page up and running tomorrow. They should know that a PhD is real work.

By the late afternoon, I’m satisfied with what I’ve got in front of me on the word document, and there’s just a paragraph or two more, and the referencing to be completed. In the evening I head out for a run to reward myself, exploring a new route by the storm drain but end up way off-course and in the middle of a housing estate that is a dengue hotspot and supposedly infested with Aedes mosquitoes. In between this and Covid-19 and a PhD, I hope I’ll live to see a better year… 

Wednesday

There’s just a couple of paragraphs more to the introduction before I fire up Endnote to finish the referencing. I’m typing away merrily, but with a gnawing sense of doubt because I’ve got my supervisor’s voice in my head and I’m wondering if the introduction is too general, and if I should be offering a lot more evaluation of specific junctures in the intellectual traditions. Granted this is a first attempt, but I know I should be doing better. Nonetheless, it is the submission date, and it is a piece of work completed, and I send it off

I spend the afternoon reviewing the work plan for the next couple of weeks, set up the promised Facebook page for Food Republic, and get some Oxford Research in English  journal admin done ahead of our annual review meeting in the evening. 

The journal meeting on Teams takes longer than expected, but the upside is that there are several committee members who will stay on for the next academic year, with plenty of fresh ideas. I’m glad that I’m leaving the work in their good hands.

Thursday

I wake up feeling strangely exhausted and unmotivated – I suppose I deserve a break after meeting yesterday’s deadline? My mind is still going over many of the doubts from the introduction to the thesis and I’m feeling anxious about some of the loose ends from the virtual meeting last evening. 

The Philippines literature reading group meets again this evening and I spend the morning and early afternoon reading some excellent short stories by Jessica Zafra, John Bengan and Rosario Cruz Lucero. Anglophone writing from the Philippines is the topic of my next thesis chapter, and I’m seeing several surprising connections off the back of writing the very preliminary draft of the introduction.
 
My reading is interrupted by a commotion outside the front door: it seems like the neighbour’s cat has come over, and there is a full-fledged turf war with Gracie, our resident cat. I spend some time sweeping up soil from an overturned pot, but both cats are nowhere to be seen. 
 
I spend the afternoon tying up some copyediting for Oxford Research in English and fiddling with the journal website based off some feedback from the annual review. I know I should be getting on with another academic book for my research but I convince myself the reading group this evening counts as research work as well. It’s a fun group and it’s always great to hear from a writer about their practice, and their views of the literary tradition they are from.

Friday

The morning peek into the email inbox pays off: there is a reply from the editors of a special journal issue that I’ve sent an abstract to. They haven’t exactly accepted it, but they want me to revise it, which I’m going to take as good news.

I spend the first working hour or so revising it, but will leave it for another look on Monday morning before I send it off. On impulse, I volunteer on Twitter, in answer to a klaxon, to write a book review for a journal because it’s hard to resist a free book in the mail. 
 
I’m meeting my supervisor just before dinnertime and again, I know I need to get started on that academic book, but I’m still feeling a sense of exhaustion. It’s odd how the year creeps up on you, and I worry that I’m doing too little, while at the same time I feel I’m doing lots. Certainly it’s time to lay off the para-academic activities as I head into my third year.
 
The supervision session goes well and my supervisor offers both encouragement and important points of critique. I think I know where I’m headed next with the research work, but I’ve learned that what shows up in the thesis is a very slim percentage of what I actually learn in the course of writing it, and there’s always room for exploration.
 
My first instinct is to get started on the new reading list this evening, but a special Father’s Day dinner has just been delivered, and I resist, and check what’s for dessert in the fridge.

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