Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The way the qualifying/comprehensive exam process works in my program is we are supplied with 4+ questions at the beginning of a week and we are expected to select two, write two ten page essays in response to each, and then submit our answers to our committee members as well as 2 outside readers. After the committee and readers have taken the opportunity to read over the documents and your proposal (one element of the process that pushed the whole process further and further into the future for me) they meet with you for a span of one and a half to two hours in order to test your knowledge through your answers, bring other aspects of your reading and understanding the of the material to bear on the discussion, and to ask you to synthesize various schemas and concepts. After your orals then the committee and readers deliberate over whether or not you should pass and then move onto working toward your dissertation or whether or not you will need to do some remedial work in the coming months and undergo another examination.
I passed, but not without some impediments.
I haven't written anything for the last few years so my skills at making, as opposed to marking, arguments in a written form were a little rusty. As a result, I continued to face the radical variations in attention span that are attendant with high stress scenarios for me, coupled with denunciations of my examiners their poorly worded questions. The essays I think came out well in general, given some constraints that came from the coverage of my reading list and space in which to articulate my answers.
My mock orals with the other PhD students also went really well. I did blank on a question, but after I started going my momentum propelled the knowledge. They seemed to be claiming, that I was in fact ready.
The actual orals began with one member of my committee, however, communicating her displeasure at some of the supposed assumptions my exams were making about my field. The fact that they were locked into a particular set of historical circumstances (the legacy of the Monroe Doctrine, the militarization of the border, the rise of neo-liberalism, the possibilities for upward mobility in terms of new immigrant groups, etc.) that according to her didn't look at the long history of the concepts at work. Although I later realized that this reprimand was more directed at those on my committee and our deparment in general and seemed less to do with me specifically. Not having realized this right away I felt increasingly embattled as the exams proceeded, even though I never felt panicked, and I felt confident about my answers.
Anyway, the committee deliberated for what felt like 1/2 and hour (but was probably more like 10 minutes) and then congratulated me on passing.
Aftwards I felt relief but also a sense of loss. I've heard the state I'm in right now described to me as "postpartum," and I agree. There is something distinctly anti-climatic about the whole thing, and I've been feeling waxing and wanning sense of despair and then just orneriness. Also, I plagued with doubts about my performance, and whether or not I was handed, what is sometimes described as the "pity pass." All that said, I am excited to start working toward the diss and other projects I have in the works.