Ph.D. exams DONE!

It’s official — after almost two years of classes and ten harrowing days of exams, I have “showed sufficient mastery” of the Ph.D. coursework and am officially a Ph.D. Candidate.

Believe it or not, that’s a big deal.

Getting through the classes themselves was never a sure thing. I’ve posted on here before about my uncertainties around the program, and whether or not the classes were proving to be what I’d expected. Fortunately an attitude shift about halfway through helped me tremendously, and I was able to finished the second year of coursework in much better spirits and with much less stress. Still, it was touch and go for quite awhile.

The comprehensive exams (or “comps” as they’re called) were quite another matter. These were essay questions meant to demonstrate that I’d learned what I was expected to learn in the sequence of courses. These were open book, open note, and open Internet (just not “open classmate”) so you might expect that they would be easy, but that was certainly not the case.

While I won’t get into too much detail about the questions themselves, in the interests of academic honesty for future students, I’ll say this: they were questions about five of the many topics that we studied in the program, and they were very open-ended. These were no simple “what’s the correct answer?” questions, but rather they were meant to force students to demonstrate an ability to think comprehensively, and write in a scholarly fashion, about the topics presented.

This was me, several times a day, for ten days.

As a deliberately vague example, one question asked the respondent to, in detail, explain why a particular concept was important. Another asked the respondent to consider a particular theory of management and present a thorough review of the literature about it, both in support and critical. Yet another provided a scenario and asked the respondent what he/she would do in the situation, and to cite relevant theory to help guide his/her choices. (And that’s about as specific as I’m willing to be, in the interests of honoring my commitment to the exam integrity.)

I’ll tell you, I was sweating those questions. Sweating them. By the time I submitted my final responses, I was happy with three of them, nervous about one, and utterly despondent about one. Based on the specific feedback I got from the instructors (who blind-graded each answer without knowing which student it was from), it appears that I had a pretty good idea of the quality of my responses.

So that’s it… I’m done with classes and exams, and am now officially a Ph.D. candidate. Now the real fun begins, but that story is for another day.

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