May Week 2011

May Week is drawing to an end, and I don’t quite know how to start comprehending the fact that my first year at Cambridge is already over.

Wikipedia – a grad student’s best friend – says: “May Week is the name used within the University of Cambridge to refer to a period of time at the end of the academic year. It takes place in June. The end of exams is a cause for heavy celebration amongst the students of the University. Highlights of the week include May Balls, June Events and garden parties.”

Indeed, Easter Term ended on June 17 this year, commencing a celebratory May Week from which I am yet to recover fully. During this week, a couple of days after Suicide Sunday (which theoretically refers to a celebration of those who haven’t committed suicide due to the year-end stresses, but which in reality constitutes happy picnicking on King’s otherwise forbidden lawn) I defended my first year report under the new dissertation title: “Literature on the Border: Frontiers of Memory in the Post-Soviet Fiction of East Ukraine”. This is called ‘registration’ in Cambridge (and ‘transfer of status’ in Oxford) – it means that that a student’s probationary status within the University is lifted, and one becomes a full-fledged PhD candidate.

Yes, it’s really done! It took a 10 000-word piece of writing (which I called the dissertation framework – pretty much the size of a Master’s thesis), a chapter-by-chapter dissertation plan (which my supervisor had to squeeze out of me in light of my usual innate resistance to scheduling and planning), a nice long summary of work completed, and a rather bureaucratic personal development report. At 3 pm on Summer Solitice, Tuesday June 21, my two thoughtful and helpful assessors spent two hours talking me through all this, before releasing me into a warm June evening which (after weeks of hard work) felt simply beyond relief.

Various fireworks, my first King’s Affair (complete with the 5 am ‘survivor photos’) and the last Grad Formal of the year followed in quick succession. Strange: I was in such a different place this time last year, in many ways. Now still slightly bewildered, I am left with two questions:

– Is my first PhD year really over?
– Really?!

… a brutal timelapse of King’s Affair is below. It made me realize that the clouds over me these days are perpetually moving eastward.



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