I have now spent three years working towards a DPhil at the Oxford University Centre for Criminology. I have just ‘confirmed,’ which to the uninitiated means that I am on the home stretch of my dissertation and hope to submit within the next academic year. By the time I submit I will have been working on my DPhil for around 4 years, which is a long time, but over these years I have learnt a lot. And not just about immigration detention, of which I am supposed to be an expert on by now. I am going to highlight a collection of key experiences of the DPhil that, for me, summarise my last three years in Oxford.

Wow, that’s miserable.

My research is on the experience of women who have spent time in immigration detention in the UK. In summary, my findings suggest there is something about immigration removal centres that is deeply troubling for the people held within them. In my work I draw on interviews which I gathered over three sites. I met with women while they were in immigration detention. I travelled throughout the UK to speak with women released from detention into the community, and to Jamaica to learn about others who had been removed there. A discussion about these findings will kill the mood, and quickly. I don’t want to inflict on my friends and family the anxiety, guilt, and low moods that accompany research on difficult subjects, so I don’t. I try to do other things that people find more interesting, and talk to them about those. I would perhaps not recommend endurance sports to everyone, but distracting both myself and everyone I know with triathlon/marathon talk works for me.

No thanks, I’ll just have water.

Watching your friends succeed in their careers when you’re a student again is hard. I spent 6 years in the civil service as a social researcher, leaving a fulfilling job as an HM Inspectorate of Prisons. I look back with fondness at a time when I could head to the local pub on a Friday - in London - and confidently buy a round of drinks for my colleagues. Nowadays I will go to great lengths to avoid the two simple words ‘your round’. Thankfully, the Centre for Criminology is not short of friends who understand this dilemma and will proudly stand at the bar with me as I count out the coins in my pocket to pay for a drink. It is also helpful to remember the perks of academia in these times. I may not have been on a proper holiday for a number of years, but I have spent time in Australia, the US, Europe, and Jamaica with my DPhil and though these trips were ‘work’, I found time in the evenings and weekends for sightseeing.   

When’s your graduation so we can book our flights?

My parents are in Australia and want to know when I will finish and graduate so they can come celebrate with me. They believed my DPhil would be over in 3 years (and so did I). People who are not in academia will never understand why or how a DPhil takes as long as it does. Where most students will come to accept the four year plus DPhil as normal, explaining this to outsiders is difficult. Distracting them with the other work that I do is better. I help develop and facilitate the ‘Measure of Quality of life in Detention’ survey alongside my dissertation work. I go to removal centres, I conduct surveys, and then I publish a report. This makes sense to non-academics and I can direct them to a real life evidence that I’m not idle.

In summary, the Oxford DPhil has presented me with challenges that I could not have predicted, nor prepared for before starting. However, working on ‘miserable’ research is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. My travels have given me a confidence that will prove invaluable in my future career, and the stories I collected while living in Jamaica will undoubtedly still be told when I’m an old woman cursing my sports-induced bad knees. I’m not yet able to give my parents a graduatation date, but, when reflecting back on what I have done over the past three years… I might just see how long I can stretch this experience out.