Comps: The Semi-Final Frontier

Photo Courtesy of Flickr user Megrje

After the IRB process, what more is there to dread about the path ahead, right? Well, between myself and the dissertation process, there is one large hurdle standing in the way, and that is the comprehensive exams.  Every PhD program is structured differently, but in my particular program, I have both a qualifying research project to complete as well as comprehensive exams to move on to the next level: PhD Candidate.

Comprehensive exams are tricky.  They are at once highly comprehensive (hence the title) but at the same time personal.  You spend your time as a PhD student working hard to chart your own research, but there are common goals of the program that also must be met through your coursework.  The balance is seen in your comprehensive exam, testing your own self-paced study while addressing the wide variety of information you have soaked up during your in-class time.  It feels daunting, but my guess is that you are far better prepared for it than you imagine.  So, in the spirit of my own quest to keep on track, I have compiled this list of tips that I am trying to use to prepare for the dreaded December test.

1. Cornell NotesCornell notes is a format for note-taking that utilizes page space efficiently to organize and highlight key concept.  It helps keep me organized and has helped my notes to be more useful to me as I can easily separate what information I’ve already been through by visually “chunking” concepts together.

2. The Buddy System/Supports – It is easy to get lost in the sea of literature and self-paced study that is inherent in the PhD lifestyle.  If you have a go-to person or group of friends that give you emotional support, now is the time to reach out. When I get stressed about schoolwork, I tend to go a bit hermity, but if I spend even an evening with friends or family having a “non-work” night, it makes all the difference in my perspective and my motivation.  Beyond that, if you have a cohort of students also working through comprehensive exam time, set up a regular meeting where you can check in and see how each other are doing.  If you are in the same program, see if you can spend your time rehearsing and working through material you have learned in your foundations classes to make it more concrete.

3. Leveraging Technology – For my cohort, we have two people living in the same region, but then one student who recently took employment in Jordan. In order to keep us all on track and motivated towards completing this milestone, we will be employing a Mahara digital portfolio to keep our documents organized, Skype to be able to meet “face to face” now and again, and Google Docs to collaboratively edit documents.  Another way in which you can leverage technology to help along the process, as I’ve mentioned before, is using Twitter to reach out to other scholars.

5. Get Some Sleep – Everything looks better after a good night’s sleep.  Through I often find myself saying “I just need to spend all night working on this.  If I pull an all-nighter, I can get it done”.  That is rarely the case.  I am less efficient, more irritable, and my thought process is slower when I do not sleep.  So, I am writing this sentence out to remind myself: sleep!  When that happens, you will work smarter, not harder.

– SES

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