Neelima Fernandes


Diploma in Strategy and Innovation


United Kingdom





By Neelima Fernandes

Post-thesis syndrome

Do forgive me for the length of this article, I hope you empathise and appreciate that I am still hung-over from writing a 10,000 word dissertation. It has been a few weeks since the words ‘submission and deadline’ have thankfully ceased to haunt me. I am pleased to say that the feelings of being shackled by a research project are well behind me. Harsh but true. All good things must come to an end…..or do they? The way I look at it, is that this is the new beginning. The joy and excitement of surviving a dissertation is well underway but the gloom and the possibility of not having done very well, hang in the air like a cold, wet and grey day in London. Nevertheless, chin up and crack on until the day arrives, when at least one of my very modern electronic gadgets buzzes gleefully in a desperate attempt to notify me of my chances of wearing a subfusc and a mortar board for one last time.

Let’s not dwell on the results too much for now, because if Oxford even remotely sensed that a candidate was incapable of handling such a course, Oxford would not have offered that candidate a place in this renowned institution. It is true that our lives have transitioned through this course and a year is a long enough time for changes to occur in one’s life. To be fair, the reason we all decided to endure this self inflicted (pure jest), demanding and complex diploma is probably because we decided to let our lives transition for the better anyway. This qualification (subject to a favourable result) only opens up a plethora of avenues to choose from and between us (the cohort) and the networking support that we receive from the university, the possibilities are endless.

The day we handed in our dissertation, we obviously went into frenzy on social media, posting celebratory pictures and statuses relating to how relieved we were that it was all over. The signs of relief were evident but in reality, there was an undercurrent of sadness, a feeling that we as a group are no longer bound by common interests, and that we no longer have to pack our bags every few weeks and make our way to Oxford city.

The highs and lows of this epic journey…….

The one thing that stood out for me on this journey was how resilient we all were as a cohort. To be able to withstand the pressure of studying for a couple of hours every evening, amidst the chaos and busyness of a family life coupled with a strong desire to do nothing but deal with a glass of wine and a good book, after a gruelling day at work. It does get a bit like that when you’re up against two kids trying every trick in the book to postpone bedtime, whilst the clock is clearly ticking and you’ve still got a framework or two to digest and a work presentation to knockout for work the following morning, before you can even entertain the thought of falling asleep. At this juncture, procrastination seems like a tempting and highly plausible option.

The fact that we chose to fit all of this into our busy lives never ceases to amaze me….but when you look back and analyse your own historic track record of being a decent enough student, an achiever at work and belong to a well educated family, surrounded by a brilliant spouse and a circle of friends who understand your choices and ambitions; it eliminates a few layers of complexity and makes it a tad simpler.  Fortunately, when it comes to facing the challenges of dedicating those study hours, you are not alone….the entire cohort peppered across geographies finds themselves in the same place as you and springs into action on the various social media groups, when it’s exam time. We exchange ideas, discuss concepts and case studies at length on Skype calls and meet up for marathon study sessions at a pub or the college. We all tend to support each other immensely on this insightful journey.

Being given the opportunity to study in Oxford (some of us even with a scholarship), is an achievement in itself. It’s no wonder that people around you hold your efforts in such high regard and reassure you that everything is going to be okay when the demons of uncertainty emerge and begin to bring your spirits down….but that’s life in general. Irrespective of an educational course and the pressure of successfully completing it looming over you, there are times in life where it feels likes it’s all going pear shaped and that we’re going to fail miserably….and THAT is precisely the very moment when the ‘circle of trust’ (as I fondly refer to our Whatsapp group) intervenes with their light hearted, humorous yet meaningful insights into the course and voila! Fallen spirits and frayed nerves are instantaneously restored!

There’s always one person in the group who is feeling positive and makes the journey that much more enjoyable. The university does a fantastic job of analysing our personal interests and hosting events to entertain the likes of a professional cohort. Some of the mind-blowing experiences that I can recollect are; rowing on Thames, punting, watching a rugby match in a pub (sounds ordinary but when you watch it with a truly international lot, loyalties to their nation and the passion for the game are rife) being treated to fine dining in the most exquisite college dining halls in the world (Brasenose, Nuffield, Oriel….), a campus barbeque in the summer, a few rounds of  Pimm’s at the boat club (whilst some of us slaved over rowing lessons), an opportunity to enter into a debate at the Oxford Union (yes, THE Oxford Union), a chance to read and prep for exams at the world famous Bodleian (yes, where Harry Potter was filmed) and the Sainsbury libraries, an opportunity to attend an exclusive lecture, delivered by Dame Frances Mary Ashcroft , a British Geneticist & ion channel physiologist ( whose incredible and phenomenal work enabled a breakthrough in the world of children with diabetes to switch from insulin injections to tablet therapy). A privilege is probably an understatement in this respect. I’m sure you will agree that the fact that we had the opportunity to do these things is nothing short of an honour.

My dear reader, if you haven’t fallen asleep by now, chances are you won’t until this blog ends.

The most integral part of this journey is the support that we’ve all had from our families. Some of us had to book flights and hotels and take a considerable amount of time off at work, each time we had to fly half way across continents to attend lectures. Adrenalin, caffeine and cakes were the greatest contributors to this programme. Whilst we were on coffee breaks between lectures, some of us had to go through the ordeal of attending work conference calls; skyping family members at odd hours and ensuring that the world wasn’t falling apart for them in the absence of a missing Oxfordian….the challenges were endless. Tough times call for tough measures though and we all put up a brave front, despite life’s pressures and that was the one quality that the entire lot unanimously displayed throughout this programme.

It was a standard occurrence for bars in Oxford to be inundated with requests for cocktails as soon as we emerged into town. In fact the numbers were colossal and disproportionately large compared to the size of the cohort. Stock prices of beer and wine shot up on the London Exchange quite considerably, just as soon as the cohort made it past the conveyor belts at Heathrow terminals and the Oxford Rail link. What we all do take great pride in, is the fact that no matter how late into the night we all were out socialising, the sessions during the day were always buzzing with intellectual exchanges. With a staggering number of questions being asked, the professors had no option but to steer the discussion back to the contents that were prescribed in the modules. Profs who were involved in this programme are truly an asset to this university. That is one of the many reasons that Oxford stands apart in the world’s rankings on the best places to study. Lunchtime spreads were a real treat and we certainly looked forward to options like lamb kofta, sprinkled with pomegranates and spinach and Eton mess for pudding (not the political debate between Cameron and Johnson) were all time favourite and the ones to die for!

“What was in the course”?

That’s for you to find out….OR as the famous dialogue exchanged between the doctor and Holmes in “The Hounds of Baskerville”,” I’d love to tell you but then of course, I’d have to kill you”.

How will this experience enhance your existing high flying careers…the simplest way to define it is that it was a year of enlightenment, an eye opener, propelling us all into a different world; a world beyond the realms of the ivory towers we work in or the office space we work in from the comfort of our own homes; It offers a chance to sit back and do a job differently, creatively and allows us to infuse an element of academics and theoretical aspects into the overly practical world we live in. It allows you to question certain fundamentals that you’ve been working with, the daily reports and project proposals you’ve been dealing with for decades; an opportunity to question the rationale behind the mergers and acquisitions you’ve been through in your lifetime (seventeen years in a Banking environment and still counting, in my case). It gives you the opportunity to switch to an advisory mode as opposed to doing what’s prescribed in your job description. It gives you an opportunity to challenge fundamental decisions made by your organisation. Employers today are enthused by a hardworking, intellectual and creative lot. The days of being a ‘yes man’ are long gone. It’s a catalyst for any aspirations you may have, to be an entrepreneur. This course is instrumental in helping you build contacts across industries and continents.

As a mother of two very young children, I can testify to the fact that it has been a rocky road but the feeling of having travelled this far, is indescribable. It only means that this is not an impossible feat. Invest in yourself, you’re worth it and you deserve it. Worldly possessions are great but education is priceless. Until Graduation day!

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