DPhil Diaries #1

I am halfway through my DPhil and yet I feel like I have only just begun the journey.

In some ways, I wish I can take all that I know now, and go back to the start of my DPhil. Life as a DPhil student was never going to be easy. One aspect that I found particularly difficult was making the transition from thinking like a clinician to thinking like a scientist.

What do I mean by this?

Well, clinicians tend to view something new in terms of whether or not it is useful in clinical practice.

Clinician: You know that exciting new discovery you’ve just made…

Scientist: Yes? (looks up tentatively)

Clinician: Can I use it to help my patients?

Scientist: Well, this discovery is important because it reveals the mechanism of working memory disruption in cerebral small vessel disease.

Clinician: Mmmkayyy, get back to me when you’ve found a way to put it into clinical practice.

Of course, that caricature is only partly true. The gap between the two worlds is smaller than you imagine; more and more people are becoming clinician-scientists.

My own research project involves studying a condition called cerebral small vessel disease and how it affects cognition i.e. the way you think. I really like working in this area because it straddles two different but related fields: experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience.

The pandemic put a stop to my data collection process, but hopefully in the next few months I will be able to complete this crucial step in my DPhil. Right now, I am writing a review on cerebral small vessel disease as well as working on some voxel-based morphometry analysis of my group’s neuroimaging data. I pray this will all go smoothly inshaAllah.

Changing seasons

In the meantime, the weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and winter is graciously making way for spring. Yesterday morning, I went for a jog at the park next to my house. In the evening, I brought my kids for a walk at the same park. We went to my favourite bench, said hi to the ducks and gangster swans, and stopped to play at the playground.

I’m going to miss these walks for sure when I return to Malaysia.

They are therapeutic despite their simplicity, giving me the priceless opportunity to work through my thoughts in relative solitude. More importantly, they provide me with the opportunity to spend quality time with my kids.

We talk about school and friendship. I explain to my kids the important of looking after nature and the effect of climate change. In return, they educate me on the various Pokémon types and abilities.

Thanks to their dedicated tutoring, I can now say with confidence that my favourite Pokémon are Charizard and Snorlax.

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, thank you very much for reading. Here are some pictures I took yesterday of the park around sunrise and sunset. Enjoy!


Abu, Guardian of Oxford Castle.

I took a picture of this cat as it was wandering around near the Mound the other day. A lady was sitting in the sun near where I stood. I asked if the cat was hers, she nodded, and told me his name was Abu (like the character in Aladdin).

The Mound is a small hill located next to Oxford Castle. I quickly looked up Oxford Castle on Wikipedia and discovered that according to the Historia Ecclesie Abbendonensis (Abingdon Chronicle), the Castle was built from 1071-1073 by the Norman baron Robert D’Oyly. My mind is fascinated with the idea that a thousand years ago, some guy chose this very site to build a moated, wooden motte-and-bailey castle. What must it have been like?

From the Oxford Castle & Prison website:

When William the Conqueror invaded England and won the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Oxford Castle was marked by the Normans as the ideal place for a motte-and-bailey castle. Norman baron Robert O’Doyly took it upon himself to build this castle. Over time, our site transformed from a castle into a prison. Today, after one millennia, Oxford Castle & Prison is a visitor attraction with a story to tell.

I’ve been in Oxford since April 2019 but have never actually visited the Castle proper. It is now closed due to the virus-that-shall-not-be-named but once it’s open, I’ll definitely bring my family along to visit this thousand-year historical site.