Monday, April 23, 2012

Return From the Land of Doctoral Comprehensive Exams

I am officially back from the jungle that is doctoral comprehensive exams.  I am alive, thriving, and seriously hoping I’ll never have to do that again. 

The instructions said I’m not allowed to talk to anyone about the exams except for my major professor.  I’m not sure if that refers to “never talking to anyone about it again in my life” or if it just meant that I’m not allowed to ask other people for the answers.  So, as I describe the process I’ll try to keep that in mind, being reasonable but erring on the side of caution.

In my program, “comps” are a take-home exam.  Students are given 2 weeks to answer 4-6 questions, per committee member, in sufficient detail to answer question completely.  I have 4 committee members but was blessed with a “fewer than average” questions-per-committee member average.  I was asked to complete the questions in 7-10 days, rather than the 14 I was allowed to take, because they wanted me to get them turned in in-time to get them approved so that I could propose my dissertation.  They also wanted me to finish my proposal.

By the end of the first 5 days I had answered half of the questions.  I was finally on a roll and making good progress.  Then I hit the weekend, a busy weekend despite how much I tried to arrange for it to be less busy, and I didn’t make as much progress.  In fact, after finishing half of the questions I didn’t make any more progress on my comps for 3 days.  Instead I had to finish my proposal so I could send it out to my committee for review.  I also had to prepare for and complete an 8-hour testing process for work that spanned 3 days.  (and I have a family to take care of, and…).  So by Tuesday I was freaking out a little bit.  Or a lot.  I had finally finished all the OTHER stuff I needed to do but found myself staring at the computer, paper, and books upon books without anything to write.  I only had 2 days left until the time they asked me to get this all done.  I hadn’t made progress in 3 days so it was feeling insurmountable.

I cried.  I begged my husband to love mie still if I quit the program.  If I just stopped pursuing this Ph.D. and returned to normal life.  I laid on his shoulder for several minutes.  I despaired.  I was wishing he would turn and tell mie to go ahead and quit, that he loves mie and will always love mie and yeah, I don’t need to finish.

That’s not what he did or said.

Instead, he told mie that he would love mie if I quit or if I finished.  Then he told mie that I needed to get out of the house – that he knew what I needed because he pays attention – and that he was going to take care of the kids for the night while I went somewhere else to work on my papers.  The only thing was that I had to be back by 8:20 or so to spend a few minutes with Logan and put him to bed (something he knew I wanted to do). 

So I took my bag o’ books and my teary-eyed face down to the local McDonalds that has free wi-fi and used to have comfy seating.  Used to as in I’d done this before when writing a paper and found it very helpful.  Used to as in they’ve remodeled since and the furniture is not nearly as comfy.

Of the 4 tables being used when I arrived there was a mother/grandmother eating with a young child and 3 other women clearly working on school-related work.  I found this funny.  The non-school folks got up soon after I arrived so I settled in where they used to be.  I made progress.  Tons of progress.  My hubby sent mie pictures of each kiddo playing at the Chick-Fil-A playplace, having a blast.  I only wrote 1 ½ pages while I was there but I’d finally gotten into my groove again and felt I’d be able to finish.  I was hopeful again. 

As it turns out I was able to finish.  I wrapped up my answers shortly before midnight on Thursday night and then did a bit of editing before turning them in on Friday.  In the end I’d written 78 pages in 10 days. 

I’m hopeful that I did well – at least well enough to pass.  I’m not sure how exactly I’ll find out if I passed or not.  I really don’t care, except if they tell mie I didn’t pass I may just quit.  Maybe but probably not.  There would be nothing like going to graduate school for 3 years to earn a Masters degree and 4 more years to earn a Ph.D. only to drop out with half the dissertation done because you don’t want to do comps.  That’s how much I’ve feared and hate comps. 

Hopefully it doesn’t come to that because my dissertation proposal is now scheduled for 5/7, which will allow mie to work on my dissertation over the summer, defend it in the fall…


NoMatterWhatMom said...

Wow! And I thought the bar exam was stressful. Congratulations on getting your questions turned in. I know how easy it is, when the stress is turned way up, to just want to give up. But it's a passing feeling. I'm so glad that your husband was able to give you what you needed to keep going. God bless you as you finish your dissertation proposal.

Anonymous said...


What area of study is your Phd? I've been following your blog for a while but have no idea what is your area of study. Good luck!