Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ph.D. Journey: Phase II Complete ... Now the work/fun begins!

work area in my basement
I am pleased, and relieved, to have successfully completed the second major phase of my Ph.D. journey, the comprehensive (or candidacy) exam. I completed my course work in April (see this post), the next task was the comprehensive exam, which I began in May. There are several options for this exam process, I chose the method most choose - four questions, three months and 100 pages (excluding references - good thing since I ended up with about 28 pages of them). The exam experience was ... character building? It actually was one of the most intense and difficult things I have done. The amount of literature research and subsequent reading necessary was tremendous, then there was the writing. At times I found it hard to focus, I found myself finding other things to do - check twitter feed, check some blogs, and so on. It was to easy to find something to distract me from the task at hand. I tried a few techniques to help. I tried taking notes as I read and re-read - by hand, then I tried typing them out so I could copy and paste into my paper, and a combination of both. I also tried the pomodoro technique, which I heard about through twitter (@thesiswhisperer). Essentially this technique has you work for 25 minutes, take five, another 25, etc., with a longer break after 4 sessions. I did not use this all the time, but when focus was a bit of an issue, I used it and it seemed to help. I also set goals, trying to concentrate on one task at a time. I set three weeks per question, leaving just over a week for final edits, reference checks and so on. I managed to stick, more or less, to my timetable and submitted the exam followed by a celebration dinner out with many of my cohort friends. My committee was very prompt, thankfully, after just three days they met and I even heard the same day they met - I PASSED! A major hurdle was over. I know people who had to wait much longer, I found even this short wait excruciating - what if I did not pass? Could I bring myself to do this a second time (it is two tries and you are out)? I could not imagine a long wait. I was also fortunate because I had coffee with my advisor, and he provided feedback from the committee on areas to improve on for my proposal/dissertation. One of the toughest, if not the toughest, parts of the process was not being able to discuss the questions. We learn by social means, and in my cohort it was a key activity, we often bounced ideas off one another, shared our work, discussed. Often, even talking about an approach, idea, thinking aloud would help make sense of things, not being able to do this was difficult. This simply solidified my belief in the social aspect of learning.
exam packages ready to submit

Well, the exam is over (and has been for a while, as I am slow to get this post written) and now it is on to the next phase - the dissertation! First task - complete the proposal and defend it ... should be a challenge, and fun. Stay tuned.

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