Tuesday, May 08, 2012


My life in the past week has been crazy good.

I've had some amazing changes at work - but since working mama Wednesday is only tomorrow I'll let you all wait for those updates until then.  Today I will focus on my education.

A few weeks ago I was working on my doctoral comprehensive exams.  It was stressful and I was very much ready to give up and be done.  Thankfully my husband swooped in next to mie and gave mie the encouragement and environment I needed to finish and turn my 80 pages (x 6 copies) in 4 days before the due date. I was so happy to turn them in that I didn't bother asking how I'll find out if I passed.

For those of you unfamiliar with the doctoral process, it typically goes something like this:

  1. Admittance, acceptance, & enrollment
  2. Coursework - my program had 72 units, 60 of which is considered my coursework.  60 units = 20 classes and that took mie 3 years to complete.
    2a - Residency - my program required that for 2 consecutive semesters I HAD to go full-time, which meant 3 classes per semester.  I did that in 2008 to 2009, my first year in the program.  Because I was doing residency, we delayed any fertility testing and treatments until spring 2009 - subsequently that is when we began learning the true nature of our infertility and was the beginning of our journey into foster care & adoption.
  3. Comprehensive exams - each program is different, but I had 2 weeks to answer, in essay form, lots and lots of questions.  Many times students will do comprehensive exams toward the end of their last semester of coursework - that is the first time you are eligible to complete them.  I on the other hand worked full-time and was caring for 4 children under 5 years old and was going through the drama of waiting for Summer's brother, so I just said no to comps in Spring 2011.  I ended up waiting an extra year before I completed them.

    When you complete your comps successfully you are promoted to "doctoral candidate".  Then you are able to pursue the last step of obtaining a doctoral degree - the dissertation.  A dissertation is a major research project that should be publishable and contribute to the body of knowledge in your subject area.  It's a lot of work and professors will tell you it's the hardest part because no one is pushing you to complete it - you have support but are on your own in motivating yourself to get it done.
  4. Dissertation Proposal - Before you can do your research you have to put together, and defend, your dissertation proposal.  You can start doing this during coursework but can't officially make progress until your comprehensive exams are done.  The proposal involves writing 3 of 5 chapters of the final dissertation, including all of the introduction to the study, an analysis of existing literature, and then defining HOW you are going to do the study (in painful detail).  Once you are done writing this piece (mine is 45ish pages long, not counting references and the appendix) you then get to present the "proposal" to your doctoral committee, a group of 3-5 professors who are officially chosen to work with you during the dissertation process.  The proposal is public and so anyone can go including other students, other faculty, family, and friends, but it is in an intimate setting.  You present your information and then the committee members (and other faculty, if they are there) grill you about your proposal, pointing out all of the flaws and making suggestions to make it better.  At the end you either pass or fail.  When you pass you are free to move forward with the dissertation process.
  5. Conduct Dissertation Research - After you have an approved proposal you start collecting data however you said you would and then you do the statistical analysis and write up the findings.  In the end you have 5 chapters worth of information that is referred to as "the dissertation".  
  6. Dissertation Defense - When your dissertation is complete you then come back before your committee to present the results.  You have to be able to answer their questions again, similar to the proposal, but if you do it right through the process the dissertation defense, though big and scary, is fun and celebratory.  If you pass, at the end your committee congratulates you by calling you "Dr." for the first time.
  7. Graduation - All the regalia of a graduation ceremony, complete with a "hooding" ceremony (no joke),  at the end of which you are FINALLY done.  Like all the way done.
So my friends, last Wednesday I got word that I had passed my comps.  Literally I got a few words, in an email, from my professor.  After ALL that work and tears, the email read "You have passed your comps.  Congratulations".  I joked with him yesterday that it was pretty anti-climatic and I really expected some fanfare over completing that step.  Most students get all freaked out about the dissertation process but the comps is what really got to mie.  At the time I took my comps my dissertation proposal was almost completely ready for presentation and I was not at all afraid of that process.  Aside from just needing a break from school, the REAL reason I delayed comps for a year was I was afraid I'd fail - so passing for mie was huge.

The goal in getting my comps done when I did was to be able to propose my dissertation this semester. I was able to arrange for my committee to meet yesterday, the first day of finals week, for my dissertation proposal.  As I said I had most of it done during comps and so I didn't have much to do besides put together the powerpoint and make final corrections.  

Yesterday I defended my dissertation proposal.

As I walked into the room to get ready my major professor told mie that I he was going to be taping mie.  He runs a website for doctoral students to understand the process and had examples of all the other stages EXCEPT the dissertation proposal defense, so he prepped it so that I would be the example.  He didn't want mie to freak out so he didn't tell mie in advance.  I didn't mind but I probably would have done a better job prepping for the presentation.  My hubby attended my proposal, which made it extra special.

As I got up to begin my presentation I started seeing the familiar blindness of aura.  Those of you who experience aura with migraine are familiar with what I'm talking about.  I don't get them that often anymore, but I have a history of wicked migraines and wouldn't you know I was fortunate enough to get one of the worst in a long time right as I stood up to present.  I mean literally - I was just fine all the time up to the time I stood up.  Then I couldn't see, almost at all.  I knew what it was and tried to play it off but when I was done with the presentation and ready to sit down for the questions I just let the committee know that if I gave them funny looks bear with mie - I couldn't see them.  The thing about aura is that though it is annoying and can be disturbing, the pain and other effects of migraine don't really start until the aura goes away - I had time to finish but I knew what was coming.

Overall the process went really well and I PASSED!  I was later told that behind closed doors I had great kuddos for my work and many of the questions were purely for the camera so other students could see some of the questions they should be prepared for.  Migraines make my intellectual processing flow pretty slow, so it's wonderful that the example for students at this large university will be mie, not being able to see, surely looking and sounding a bit "slow".  

Bottom line though - I passed.  In the past week I passed my comprehensive exams and my dissertation proposal.  The last major step is to pass the dissertation defense, which I plan to do in September, then I can graduate in December.  I CANNOT WAIT!!!


Kim said...

Hooray! You go, girl!

Sophie said...



Kylee said...

Congratulations!! What a huge accomplishment! Hope all goes well as you write your dissertation.

Mitzy said...

Way to go! I too have migraines and I get such a cold feeling of dread when the blinding aura starts, way to power through!

Mary said...

Bring on the fanfare- what an accomplishment!