PhD General Exams – Liveblog

23 Nov

This weekend I’m writing my PhD general exams. Since I’m working hard but always need the distraction, I thought it might be fun to liveblog the experience. I know probably no one is following, but it will surely be a nice record of a fairly anxiety-ridden academic experience.

4pm – I finished today at 11:57am. It was a dreadful night/morning but I did get a bit of sleep last night (I called it quits around 3:30 to take a couple-hour ‘nap’). worked hard this morning, not quite sure what i wrote but it sounded ok when i re-read it.

Monday, 3:00 a.m.: Essay 1 – proofread and done! Essay 2 – proofread and done!  One. more. to. go. 9 hours left!

3:00 – I’ve been at Starbucks since this morning, with a quick trip home to give hubs house keys and say hi to baby. I’ve made a nice little home at Sbux – I’m on my 2nd hot cup of tea with papers spread all over the table. I’m allllmost finished with question #1 and I’m really happy with how I’m doing. It’s a good blend of the research I’ve read and my own experiences. I just need to finish it up, higlighting weak sections as I go and move on to the next essay. It’s going to be a long day but my head is clear and I’m getting a lot done. I just can’t go home…

Sunday, 10:20am: worked until about 12:30 last night…made some good theoretical process on essay #1 (finding an article with research to really support my claim). Didn’t quite finish essay 2, but worked until I couldn’t any more and have more than half done.  This morning I was up before dad and baby and headed over to Sbux for coffee, christmas music, and more work. Just have to power through today–26 hours till I have to be done!!

8pm: Left campus at about 6:15, got a rotisserie chicken and some snacks and back home. Did a bit of editing with the hubs and ate dinner with babe.  Now I’m hiding in the bedroom (in my cozy bed) getting back to work. Goal for the evening: finish essay #2, make some good progress on essay #1. I can do it!

5:40pm: I’ve been to the library, read a couple chapters, printed a couple articles and I’m making really good progress on the first essay I worked on yesterday. I think I can finish this one tonight! I ran into a problem with one other essay–one that I was more confident about. Basically, I went back to one article to check some information and refresh my memory and it was pretty much what I was writing… so I panicked a bit (what new thing can I say) but I realized that there’s always a way to more fully develop a theory and my goal is to marry theory to practice. So, I’ll work on that one tonight.  Tomorrow is going to be a long day, but I think I’m setting up myself well. Two of my exam questions could have similar answers, so having one response more about practical classroom-based work and the other be more abstract and theory based will help me not only distinguish myself from the published work, but also help my own responses stand out from each other.  A lot of work ahead of me… I think I’ll be visiting Starbucks tomorrow in the a.m. Now I’m off to pack up my things, do a dinner run, and head home!

3:15 – I’m on campus now and feeling good. Sucks that I had to park in a far-away lot, but it was nice to walk on such a beautiful day. I little fresh air never hurt anyone! Lots of books in my office that may be relevant to what i’m writing, so it’s good that I’m here.  I figure I’ll try to focus for an hour or so then head to the library to pick up a couple more books. Then we’ll see if I want to stay here or head to a cafe. I need to finish doing all my research today and do some actual writing so I can revise my writing tomorrow!

1:30pm: Slow start to the day – again I couldn’t sleep last night but not because of babe. I think I over-did the coffee. So this morning I was up at about 10 and played with N for a bit. Then I got a book I thought might be relevant and checked a couple chapters. Found some pretty good stuff, added the notes. . . and took a nap 🙂 My logic: I can’t do good work if I’m sleepy, so best to rest up so I can focus this afternoon. So I’ve now woken up, the grogginess is easing and I’m getting ready to head over to campus to pick up some books. Will I work from my office or a cafe? Not sure yet, but no more coffee today. Today’s a green tea day!

Saturday, 12:01am: computer is dying – time for bed. Easy evening but I do have a plan for each essay. Time for sleep, writing again tomorrow 🙂

8:30 – I’m not as focused as earlier (because i’m home, probably) but I did have fun playing with N while thinking. I’m working on my third question which requires me to draw together somewhat broader concepts and do more theorizing. It’s tough, but it’s at the heart of the academic work I want to do. So taking some time away from books and computers can be really helpful to let ideas bounce around and come together.  N and I played ball and he found a new fun game–I opened my mouth really wide and he giggled at all the funny teeth I have. Seriously, that kid was falling over laughing because I have teeth? Strange boy 🙂

I also helped hubs with some editing. We’re working on a wedding recap right now from our awesome Montana wedding this summer. Although I told him I won’t help him during exam time, a little bit of creativity was a nice break.

30 more minutes and babe goes to bed and I can set up camp again in the middle of our bed and get a bit more theoretical work done. I must complete an outline before tomorrow. Tomorrow is writing day!!

5:25: Back to work – I left Starbucks at 4:20 to head home and relieve dad from baby duty for a bit.  I made a yummy dinner snack and we’re now both feeding N. He’s having fun slurping spaghetti and I decided to work from my desk.  I went through books and I will have to head to campus tomorrow. One book I think I need is there . . . I’ll do that first thing tomorrow and maybe work from my office for a bit.

The plan for this evening is to outline my arguments as well as I can and then relax. N’s first molar is coming through so we’re back to nighttime wake-ups. Last night he woke at 1:30am, early morning – maybe 5am? and 10:30 and nursed each time. I have a slight lingering headache today from the night wakings, so the plan is to try and go to bed at a reasonable hour and get back to work tomorrow.

3:45: I have 3 pages single-spaced of argument interspersed with quotations on my methods topic. It’s going well but I’m kind of bored.  After a round of checking email and facebook, I think I might change to a different question.  I think my method is to get a rough outline of ideas for each of the questions today and then tomorrow I can dive into books to fill in what I didn’t read (or read well) and make sure I have a good theoretical foundation. I kind of want to go home because I miss my boys, but I KNOW I’ll get nothing done there.  On to the next question!

Friday, 2pm (Happy Black Friday): I got my exam questions by email 2 hours ago. I’m now settled in at Starbucks with my laptop, a spiral notebook, coffee and a sandwich.  I’ve gone through the list of 9 questions (of which I choose three–one in each category I read for) and chosen the questions I plan to answer.  Right now I’m working on the most difficult question, that is, the one I feel least prepared for.  I’m reading three areas: composition studies, qualitative research methods, and language and identity (which is a blend of theories related to situated identities and their relationships to language). None of the questions were unexpected, but I did far less reading on qualitative methods than the others (mostly because it’s boring) so I’m starting there first.

I have already outlined what I want to say, now I’m going through my notes to find out what the literature says.  I’m going to need to go back and find some books… hopefully they’re at home and not in my office at school (I’m not in the mood to drive to campus, find parking, go in, get some books, etc). That might be a trip for tomorrow–good thing I got a key to the building!

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