Thursday, November 4, 2010

Academic marathon

Dear blog,

I'm sorry to neglect you. I don't mean to, but all my writing energy is being expended elsewhere right now. I'm taking a moment now to document this point in life so I won't forget it.

On Oct 20 I started my general exam. I'd been prepping for it since July. What this means is a grand synthesis of my subject area, boiled down as written responses to 3 questions. I cover about 70-80 papers and book chapters, and then some. The final document will be around 100 pages, which my committee of 4 will read. Then they'll ask me questions about it and the papers I've covered in an oral defense that's about a 2 hour process. This is the hardest part of a Ph.D. program. Once you're through generals, you're considered a doctoral candidate, and you just have a dissertation to go (which is rigorous, but not nearly as demanding as the exam). I don't know if that's how the exam is at every school, but I think so.

At the moment, I am more or less done with question 1, and yesterday I started question 2. I will work on question 2 for another 10 days or so, then I'll hopefully be ready for question 3. That's how my timeline is constructed anyway. I am trying to turn my exam in to my committee by Wed before Thanksgiving, and I'm hoping to defend it by Dec 6. Will I make this deadline? I'm cautiously optimistic.

What makes me nervous is that I'm really pushing to be done before I get to my 33rd week of pregnancy, as that's about the time when I went on bedrest last time. The deadline is very real. However, as I keep telling myself, if I don't make it by then, the world will not end. I can finish my exam after the baby arrives and I return to schoolwork. I am taking 6 months off, but will go nutso if I don't have something intellectually meaty to do. In any case, things like this work themselves out. But it would be really really good to be done before my leave.

Also, I don't want to rush things and not be ready for the defense. This is where people fail. I know 2 people who failed. It's not pretty, though both of them were able to address the committee's specific concerns and get through it. (Actually, I don't know if person 2 has had a chance to do this yet, but I assume she'll be okay. She's very smart.) It would just really suck to fail. It would take the wind out of my sails right before going on leave, when I'll naturally take a mental hiatus. Scary.

All I can do is keep plugging away, keep focused on the immediate part of my writing, and take chunks out of each response every day. I have about 40 pages written already. Easy does it. (Well, maybe not easy...slow and steady?)


Anonymous said...

Go! Go! Go! You can do it. You are almost there! -Jana

miss d said...

Goodness. It was overwhelming for ME to read what you have to do. You sound like you're on a good plan and are at a good pace.

As Jana said, you can do it!

becca said...

Thanks for the encouragement! It means a lot. I hope I don't sound too whiny. I might not have a functional barometer of this right now. ;)