I had my comprehensive exam last week and figured some updates were in order…
Phew. Although I knew I was well-prepared to take the exam, I’m very relieved. After studying for nearly an entire year, it feels strange to no longer have that exam date looming over me. I’m also really excited to get started on my prospectus and dissertation… studying for the exam helped me to sharpen out my research interests and I already pretty much know what I want to do with my dissertation…
In the hopes of helping other Ph.D. students, I figured that I’d write a bit about what I learned from blogging my exam notes:
- It was incredibly helpful (for me). Obviously, you have to know what works best for you and what helps you to retain knowledge. For me, writing everything out really pushed me to discover something within each text that is relevant to my own research interests. Like many others, I find that writing helps me learn. After reading theoretical text that I initially felt confused about (and stressed because of my confusion), writing out the background, summary, and my own notes really helped me to better understand the text itself. Finally, I know that I personally memorize texts after teaching or writing about them. Therefore, I think writing my notes this way helped me to already really know the texts even before I began the synthesizing and reviewing process. Had I just written margin notes, or bullet points, or flashcards, I don’t think I would’ve retained the amount that I did so early on in the studying process.
- My blog posts were available not only to the public, but also to my committee. After putting together my committee, I sent each member the link to my blog. They were all really great about keeping up with my posts, and it seemed like they even reviewed some of my writing before the exam. This worked out really well for me, because my committee had a clear idea of how I approached each of my texts, which resulted in their questions being more in line with my own thinking/interests than they might have been otherwise. Additionally, as I was blogging these notes, other scholars and academics (some of whom were actually on my list) reached out to me about my posts! So, the blog wound up doing double duty for me, both as a study and a networking tool.
- Tagging is your friend. I cannot overstate how helpful the tagging feature was while blogging through my comprehensive exam lists. After writing a blog post for a text, I’d type in as many tags as I could that connected to the text, broader literary/cultural trends, and to my own interests. This streamlined my own synthesis work as I approached the exam. For example, I had a feeling that at least one of my examiners would ask me about environmental representation and/or the ecogothic mode present in the literature. By clicking this tab, I was able to see every blog post (and therefore every text) that contained environmental elements or theory. This helped me to see links across and within my lists, making my review time much more efficient.
- It’s permanent. I still have access to these notes and they are nicely organized, indexed, and easy to handle. I have a feeling my blogged notes will be incredibly useful to me as I begin putting together my prospectus and dissertation, as well as whenever I teach these texts in the future.
- What would I do differently? If I were to do this again, I wouldn’t have tried to write a blog post for each individual text. If you check my lists now, you’ll see that I wasn’t able to finish blogging everything, so the last few texts on each of the lists have no notes. In the final month and a half (or so) before the exam, I abandoned the time-consuming process of making the blog posts in favor of writing quick notes on flashcards and Word. I think it would’ve been wiser for me to only blog the texts that I felt would be most important to my own research and/or likely to come up during the exam. There were a few texts that I stressed over writing posts for that I had nothing really to say about, and that didn’t even come up on the exam. If you decide to blog your comprehensive exam notes, I recommend being strategic in selecting the texts to delve into. I think it might also be helpful to reserve some time near the end of your studying before the exam to write a few posts that synthesize some of the texts across a specific theme or question relevant to your own research.
- Dissertation blogging? I think this method helped me so much to prepare for the exam, that I also plan to blog as I progress through writing my dissertation. This, of course, may prove impossible due to time constraints, as well as the massive amount of writing time I’ll have to devote to my actual dissertation rather than this blog, BUT I think this is a great way to share my ideas and research with the public, and to work through my thoughts in a casual and relaxed space.
That’s all for now.