It has become almost a cliché to say that everyone’s PhD journey is different. Well, mine is no different. I mean, mine is different, obviously…from other people’s PhDs, but the same, oh you get what I mean!
One important milestone during a PhD is when you complete all your data collection and can focus on analysing and writing up your research. When the pandemic first reared its ugly head, I thought for sure that it would delay my data collection process significantly. After all, my research involves participants with cerebral small vessel disease, who are almost always in the highest risk category as far as COVID-19 is concerned.
Last year, our lab had to stop seeing research participants for almost 6 months. In fact, it was almost 9 months until we started feeling more confident about bringing in participants for research assessments. As much as data collection is important to us, we also have a moral duty to protect our participants from harm. Coming for a research visit is not the same as attending an actual appointment in clinic; one is voluntary, the other is necessary. We tried switching to online assessments but whereas it was mostly fine for younger research participants, things were not so straightforward when it came to people with neurological conditions.
Despite all that, by some miraculous route, I now find myself very close to finishing my data collection alhamdulillah. I’m hoping to wrap it all up by the end of October before it gets really cold but we’ll see how it goes. One potential problem is this year’s flu season—I call it fresher’s flu—making people sick and more likely to cancel their research visits.
Speaking of freshers, the end of September inevitably means an influx of people into central Oxford. Yes, I’m talking about the arrival of undergrads! Being a collegiate university has its advantages, but one disadvantage is that almost all the colleges are located within walking distance from each other. This also means that when undergraduate students return from their incredibly long summer vacations, the Oxford city centre population increases by about 12,000 within a week! Graduates have less of an impact, partly because we (research students) don’t have long holidays like the undergraduates do, so our movements in and out of the city are less noticeable.
I think back to my own arrival 17 years ago (gosh, has it been that long?) and chuckle at how foreign everything seemed back then! Prior to coming to the UK in 2004, the furthest I’ve ever been from home was to go back to my grandparents’ house in Perlis in the northern part of Malaysia.
The picture below was taken 17 years ago on my very first day in Cambridge.
I remember walking up the Chimney i.e. the Jesus College entrance, and plonking myself on a bench in First Court, thinking what-on-earth have I gotten myself into!
And below is another picture of the Bronze Horse sculpture in First Court, taken in July this year when I went back to college with my wife and children in tow.
Alhamdulillah, life works in mysterious ways so here I am; still alive, still a student (!), still enjoying learning about the wonders of the brain.