Guide to Studying for Comps

keep-calm-and-study-for-exams-86Comps, orals, qualifying exams…no matter what you call them, they are a source of angst for many (US) PhD students. Expectations can vary from one department to the next. Some programs have set reading lists, and a process that takes much of the guess work out of preparing for these exams. Other programs expect the student examinee to take a more proactive role. The advice herein is not exhaustive, but is geared primarily towards students who in this later situation. As you prepare, remember that thousands of PhDs have successfully passed through this process, and you can too. You just need to put in the work. Continue reading


The Comprehensive Exam: A Reflection, with Qualifiers

BooksThe three or four minutes between when my qualifying exam ended and when I found out I had passed rank among the weirdest of my life. Not because I feared I had failed. In fact, immediately following the exam, which I took last Tuesday and which consisted solely of a two-hour oral interrogation, I encountered a calm and a confidence that I hadn’t known in months. Instead, the moment’s weirdness stemmed from a sort of whiplash. Ideas, arguments, and anxieties had been cramming themselves into every corner of my brain for over a year. Suddenly, they were free—unleashed and dissipated in the space a two-hour conversation. It felt more than a bit anticlimactic. A disappointing question seemed to cloud out any sense of accomplishment or pride: “That was it?” A week later, I’m feeling prouder—and still celebrating—but the question remains. Continue reading