This week, I got some feedback on my methods chapter – which is still in development since I’m still in the middle of collecting data. It was of the “you’re on the right track, but this will all change, of course” variety, which I’m actually pretty okay with. Funny what you get used to.
Anyway, between illness and spring break, I don’t have much to report on the data front, so I thought I’d talk a little about the qualifying exams in my program.
My program has four steps (in addition to coursework) to qualifying for candidacy:
- A foreign language requirement – can be satisfied through testing or coursework. I did both. (French, Latin, Old English)
- The First Year Exam (FYE) – This is a 30-50 page paper (typically) on a topic of your choosing that reviews the related literature and proposes an intervention. It is meant to be completed during the summer between the first and second year, and it is supervised by two faculty readers. The point of the FYE (I think) is to build your experience with revising. The problem with the FYE (for me) was narrowing and bounding the project and attending sufficiently to the theories and implications. For a variety of reasons, I was not able to complete the exam during the summer, and I dragged it with me through the next school year. I worked on it during winter and spring break and then finished it after classes ended in April. Looking back on it, the process makes fairly good sense, and my only regret is that I haven’t (yet) done anything with it to make it publishable. Going through it, though, felt like this:
3. The Second Year Exam (SYE) – This is another 30-50 page paper, completed over the summer between the second and third year and supervised by two faculty readers (usually different from the ones who read the FYE), that is something like an academic autobiography that ends with your research questions. It documents your academic journey. There is a bit of conventional wisdom in “The Program” (as we call it) that people tend to prefer one or the other of these exams. Some people like writing arguments and some people like writing about their experiences. In spite of my long history with reflective writing, I found the SYE tricky. At its best, my writing is fine-grained, evocative, emotionally charged, and surprising. At its worst, it is convoluted, opaque, and clichéd – I frequently misstep when I reach for closure or try too hard to avoid it. The SYE brought some of the best and worst aspects of my writing together in ways that made me dissatisfied with the project on the whole, but there are some gems there, and maybe I’ll find the courage to go back and rescue them some day. The whole process felt like this:
4. The Prospectus – This is the proposal for research, which is defended in front of The Committee (4-5 faculty who are with you for the long
dark of Moriahaul of the dissertation) during the spring semester of the 3rd year. I defended early for logistical reasons, and though my vision for carrying out the project was pretty solid, my theoretical framework was an omnishambles. I revised the lit review and theoretical framework extensively, and, honestly, will probably do so again for the dissertation. <tracking down video clip>
So, that’s the super short version of PhD milestones.