In my department, the preliminary or comprehensive exam to move from Ph.D. student to Ph.D. candidate entails writing a series of four 20-page papers over four weeks on four different topics. One of the papers must be related to methodology and the other three papers should be related to your focus on concentration within the degree. The committee comes up with questions and your chair sends them through email on a weekly basis. Six days to write. One day of rest. At the end of the process, you have a two hour oral defense with your committee.
I am just about half way through, about to turn in my second paper, and so far it hasn’t been too bad of a process. To keep me motivated, I keep telling myself the faster I write, the less stress I have, and the faster I will complete the process. I tend to get a little less-motivated over the weekends, but thankfully I have still been able to make a lot of good progress during this time. It’s the quietest too which is great.
The most difficult part of the process has been juggling the writing with my coursework since I am still enrolled in classes and taking three of them. For the most part, my professors (especially Shelly!) have all been very accommodating and willing to work abound my schedule. I guess this process is a right-of-passage but it still does seem like a little bit of a hazing. If you are planning to complete these kinds-of exams while still taking classes, here are a few suggestions based on my experiences. Don’t worry too much, you can do it! Take these suggestions for what they are worth. I don’t think this process will ever be great for anyone but being able to plan and manage your time has helped me (so far)…
- Try and work ahead in your classes early in the semester. If you can, try and complete assignments prior to the exam writing. Even if this means working more weekends, nights, and vacations. It will help you write and be less stressed during the exam.
- Tell your professors that you will be taking preliminary exams. I wasn’t sure about this but my advisor suggested I tell them so I did. At the very least, this gave them a heads up that I may not do all the reading as thoroughly as I might, not having prelim’s. They can also work around your schedule for assignments and not look to you during class to be as active in the discussion.
- If you are on an assistantship, try and work ahead early in the semester. Things always come up no matter how hard you try to work ahead but if you can complete a few projects or lesson plans before the exam, it again helps you write and be less stressed.
- Try and maintain your normal work schedule. This is probably impossible to do fully because of the sheer amount of work to complete. However, getting up a little bit earlier, staying at the office a little later can help keep you from having to pull all-nighters. Trying to keep your diet and exercise routine about the same has also seemed to help me.
This feels a bit like something I would read online in The Chronicle. Not sure why… In any case, my over point is that prelims can be done during the semester with classes. If I can do it, so can you! Planning a head a little has certainly helped me. Well, at least with the first two questions. All bets are off with the next two!