~/exiel

be flexible.

I'm really struggling at the moment with my work. I can't seem to care more than the level it takes to get started. I don't want the weekend to end and think with dread about weekday mornings – or even the next morning as a weekday/weekend split does not always make sense for PhD students like myself.

I think my lack of focus is definitely key. I have recently sorted out my living situation substantially so that working is easy and life is much easier now. I was using COVID-19 as a scapegoat with the changing situations stopping me from working and thus giving me an excuse for not progressing in my studies. To tell you the truth, I don't think I've ever really 'progressed' during my studies. I know some things more about very esoteric things, but my fundamental knowledge is cripplingly shaky. I'm not sure what to do anymore; I don't have much time left at this rate, before quitting is really the only option out of this torment.

I'm trying to think what I would do with my time if I were to take some time off: I have some ideas. It would cover a well-rounded education that I think would really benefit me in terms of my understanding of the world. The good news is that in the past year my perspectives have shifted and for the better (one hopes). I feel just a few months out would really progress me in my thinking. I will post a draft syllabus in my next post, but for now, know that it contains philosophy of science, greek and roman thinkers, programming, and in general living life without dread or a sense of impending 'doom'. I know I am incredibly privileged, rationally, but my brain likes to dramatise regardless. Hopefully, one day at a time, I will get there.

I have been thinking about the root cause of my work issues recently. I think my lack of ability to focus for longer than a minute really shows my minimal ability to control my mind. This was brought to my attention by Yuval Noah Harrari on Tim Ferriss' Podcast where he mentioned he meditates 2 hours a day to gain focus in the work hours that matter. I have been meditating for almost 5 years now, and recently have stuck to 20 minutes per day. I think increasing it for a time being, along with other 'focus' training, will really help me get a grasp on my deep work sessions. I have realised that there are some genres of book that I like to read and for me, that constitutes getting into a deep state of focus; for example, the Witcher series is a guilty pleasure of mine. I will attempt to reap this natural state of focus over the next few days and see what I can do. In lockdown 1.0, I had a very good state of focus for reading and this spilled over into work. Wish me luck.

Life in Cambridge, UK. As students scramble to find a place to work other than their room, a place to socialise other than their zoom, a life beyond their webcam, Cambridge and the University itself has tried to keep a sense of normalcy. Is the new normal the lack of hordes of tourists don't block your way on your cycle to work, obstinately refusing to finish their selfie stick selfies a second earlier than they had planned? Is the new normal when shops are empty, shut down, one-wayed, or 'open for business as usual'. There is nothing usual about this, a sense of eeriness can't help but enter my mind when I walk around some previously bustling areas of Cambridge. My office is but a ghost town, the only way in is to follow someone in who miraculously has access, I assume the cleaners are the best bet. What used to be full of students, collaborators, meetings, staff and lab workers now consists of a handful of cleaning staff. They wear masks and carry at least one of some assortment of alcohol concoction to 'disinfect' after themselves, as if anywhere they now decide to be for more than '15 minutes', is now tainted. I wonder whom they are cleaning up after so persistently, when there is no one there in the first place. Themselves?

Cambridge has become somewhat of a parody of the government's rules. Naturally, their arbitrarity has come through in full effect in some of the University's decisions. For example, people can socialise only in masks 2m away outdoors and with a risk assessment filled out less than the rule of six and before 10pm. It's not hard to imagine a Cambridge where people can socialise only in masks 2m away outdoors and with a risk assessment filled out less than the rule of six whilst holding your feet at a 90 degree angle and whistling and before 10pm. I jest crudely because it is infuriating; in a place where students are meant to be treated like adults (the undergraduate supervision system is an excellent example of this), SARS-CoV-2 and its partner disease COVID-19, have caused, what presumably was always threatening to bubble up, to be enforced in full effect. A complete lack of understanding of what it is like to be a student and a complete disregard for the adult status of the students they are dealing with.

King's College sent out an email in the first week of term discussing what they called 'illicit and illegal parties'. I understand that rules were broken and it is worse off for everyone, it is our right as upstanding citizens to follow the rules to the best of our ability. Rules were broken, there should be a consequence and an explanation or understanding of why they are so important to uphold should follow. What actually transpired was an overblown telling-off akin to that of an overly power-hungry teacher to a year 7 student, fresh to secondary school, who just went around the back of the bike sheds to buy some sugary sweets and was late for maths. We should have thought better than to trust these children and their socialising ways, and so for the rest of our rant, lets drill it down that we are the parents and you are the children. What do they think the response will be? An English stiff upper lip? Just like the cane was in schools?

I don't really know what I expected. I was promised libraries would be open, colleges would be open for at least eating with your friends, places to work would be open. Instead the best I get, is having to scour every library's poorly kept website and twitter accounts retweeting the same nonsense about virtual open days and characters from Second life floating like a bad photoshop in a photo of some nondescript library space. Nothing is really open. My college, even canteen, is completely closed bar a sad takeaway in a sad bag in your sad room. On the library front, I found the Seeley library was open 10-1 and 2-6. This is better than nothing, but better than nothing is a fool's acceptance of far worse than it should be. You owe it to your students, to whom you made very clear that they had to be in Cambridge and had to pay full tuition. Now, Cambridge pay your full dues to us, make it a place to work and to learn how to learn and think and meet people as safely as we can; most importantly, allow mistakes to happen. This is what university is for, not for school detentions and being locked in extremely substandard accommodation for the year with prerecorded lectures and technical problems, a complete lack of empathy and a complete focus on the financials. Cambridge is one the richest universities in Europe and this should come with leeway that I have not seen yet. People are willing to overlook your mishaps for now as your name carries so much gravitas and are paying for a very sub-standard service, but please, don't take it for granted. This can't go on for ever, and it won't.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.