Friday, 6 May 2005

Comprehensive Exams

For my first post on this web site, I will begin with an e-mail I sent at 5 AM in the morning after my recently completed Comprehensive Exams to my exam committee. This was previously posted on my old web site in June 2005.


I thought this might be a good beginning point for people interested in the actual writing of the comprehensive exams, and surprise – that’s what my blog will be primarily concerned with: my dissertation research.

To note, a lot of the following e-mail is exaggerated for comedic effect (which I hope is obvious), but much of it rings close to the truth.

I guess for a little setup, I should inform you that I wrote a three day (72 hour), take-home Comprehensive Exam composed of three questions: 1) a Major General, 2) a Major Specific, and 3) a Minor Specific question. Each question had to be answered in a 10 page space. I’ll attach the exact exam questions, answers, and responses from my committee later – these documents will be edited for areas that are particular to my future research, and will be especially refined for purposes of intellectual copyright.

Without further ado:


Dear all,

Just some quick notes:

1) Concerning my finished exam materials:

I’m pretty happy with how the actual finished product turned out, given the time constraints. I look forward to your comments on my efforts!

2) Concerning the process of writing the exam (written at 5 AM Thursday Morning, trying to get some of this excess energy out):

Well, to tell you truthfully, I have to send these exams off to you now, or I fear I’ll have a heart attack (and I don’t have a defibrillator readily at hand in such an event). Mainly, I have to send them off because I haven’t been able to sleep for the past two nights, and that’s not without wanting to, having the time, or for lack of trying!

Needless to say, these aren’t excuses for the quality of work that’s submitted here… this is just an account of my surroundings and experiences over the past few days from someone who usually has what would be considered a fairly “normal” and routinely structured life.

Although this test was not as bad as some have said (I should probably wait to hear of my success before making such claims), I would like to share some of the experiences that I’ve had in the last week or so leading up to, and including, the writing of these exams, just because I hope you’ll find them as humorous and truly bizarre as I do.

For someone whose life has been organized to have as little stress as possible since I left my crazy 24/7 commuting publishing job in Japan, and my previous equally stress-filled restaurant manager job in Edmonton, where I usually slept in a booth at least twice a week; this experience has not been the three day fun-filled paradise getaway for which I hoped (no, that comes now that I’m done J).

I prepared over the past four months as best I could for the one thing that I truly detest in life: an exam. Alas, my fellow PhD students were correct to warn me that the “COMPS” are truly a psychological test when there is a 72 hour deadline waiting for you like a brick wall, and the student is writing on the way towards that wall at 100 miles/hour.

First of all, I did get sick, like everyone predicted – a week before to be exact (as did everyone else in my house – so I don’t think it was nerves or a stressed immune system), but then I eventually got over it four days before the exam. Next were the nightmares of my fingers melting off, and me waking up sweating because I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to type for the exam. Also, there were frequent dreams of my teeth falling out – I’m not sure what those were about, but they truly rattled me, and I’m someone that enjoys having nightmares because I think they’re usually extraordinary experiences that don’t happen every day. This is still before the exam too…

Once the exam arrived at 9 AM on Tuesday morning (May 17th) my indigestion started, and for the next two days it has persisted – thank God for Tums… I had never even had indigestion before in my life, so I wasn’t sure if Tums actually worked, never having used them. Lo and behold they do! They probably ended up saving me a lot of discomfort and annoyance while writing! I guess the indigestion didn’t help with my sleep problems, but the pounding heart certainly didn’t either – these two stress symptoms made my late night dementia quite fun. Lastly, the burst water pipe in our washroom didn’t help matters either, with our oh-so-kind landlord visiting on Wednesday to help me out (making a noisy symphony for two hours).

Again, this is coming from someone who thinks they know how to handle stress – having a yoga instructor for a fiancé usually helps toward this end!! Honestly, I haven’t been this stressed since those days of corporate management -- and thank all that is blessed, these exams are now over!!

My systems are shutting down now… I’ve CC’d my fiancé on this e-mail, so she knows that she can come home now J -- yeah!! And the only thing that I’ll be stressed out about after this is if I ever have kids – dissertation defense, bah – I’ve already defended a thesis and it was a cake walk… J

Thanks again – all of you – for your advice, help, and support on these exams!!!

Cheers and have a great long weekend,


PS – As you can see from this note, answering the exams questions was not my problem… editing them down to 10 pages was, but I took Dr. Panofsky’s instructions -- that just as long as the answers weren’t over 20 pages I should be fine -- as a good warning/guideline for my two longer answers in the Major Specific and the Minor. Deep down inside I know they could both be edited a little more, but I actually like them how they are (after 3 edits each)! I hope you do too…

PS2 – any mistakes or illogical arguments found in my exam responses are entirely my dog Bear’s fault. Bear kept telling me to write strange arguments about cats and squirrels during the wee hours of morning, and he’s not too good at editing or typing either… However, he did keep me company many of the nights that I studied for these exams, and I must give him credit for that!

PS3 – I can’t wait to take all of these books back to the library and finally have a clean room again…

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