I’m at a truly odd point of my PhD process.  That is: the in-between place.

Right now, I’m not quite a “Student” not quite a “Candidate”.  I’ve passed 2/3 of my exams, but I still have 1/3 to go before I can say that I’ve completed them and, thereby, moved into the next stage of my PhD.

Explaining this to folks who are outside of the academy has been an interesting process.  There are many terms and definitions that are commonplace to us denizens of the ivory tower but sound mostly the same to folks on the outside.  As such, I’ve found myself having the same conversation over and over again (which I don’t begrudge; it’s wonderful that

...bringing this one back because it's quite possibly my favorite pic I've ever posted on the blog.  I am, in fact, a Shakespeare Paladin.

…bringing this one back because it’s quite possibly my favorite pic I’ve ever posted on the blog. I am, in fact, a Shakespeare Paladin.

folks in my life care enough about me to ask questions about this process).  However, since I’ve found that it is a common communication issue, I also think it would be useful to have an easy-access reference guide for those less-than-familiar with this process.

So, in case you have a struggling Graduate Student in your life, here’s some good vocabulary for you to know:

A.B.D.: Stands for “All But Dissertation”.  This is a colloquial term that we use to refer to someone who has passed all of her degree requirements except writing the book.  It’s also a way to refer to someone who is a….

Doctoral Candidate: Someone who has passed all degree requirements except the dissertation (generally means that the dissertation is in process).  This is not to be confused with…

Doctoral Student: (Yes, this is a different thing, only in academia….)  A Doctoral Student is someone who is in progress with the early parts of the degree (coursework, exams, etc.).  Alternately, someone who has been accepted into a program but hasn’t started that program yet.  As an aside: mixing up these two terms can be… awkward.  You are either giving someone credit for work they did not already do and thereby devaluing that work, or taking away a hard-earned benchmark.  I have, over the years, been called by well-meaning onlookers a “Doctoral Candidate” and even “Dr. Rosvally” before needing to quickly correct this.  In an industry that functions almost exclusively on the importance of words, it is not considered supportive to devalue those words by using them outside of their accepted meanings.  In short: try to use the appropriate title for someone in the process of his PhD.  Don’t worry; you have the rest of his lives to call him “Dr.”.

Comprehensive Exams: Or “Comps” (yes, if you’ve been following this blog at all over the last few months, you already know what this means).  The exhaustive, stressful exam generally administered at the end of coursework (sometimes administered in steps over the course of coursework) that proves a student is a competent generalist in her field and, thereby, is qualified to move on to the next step.

Orals: Sometimes, the comps include an oral examination as well as a written examination (this is the case in my department).

Dissertation: The large piece of writing you produce as one of the final steps in your PhD process.  This is an exhaustive, original piece of scholarship and (presumable) a PhD’s first long-term project.  It is sometimes colloquially shortened to “diss”.  It is not to be confused with a…

Thesis: This generally refers to the culminating project of a Master’s degree.  It is shorter than a dissertation and with less expectations of originality.  The big difference between a Master’s degree and a doctoral degree is that a Master’s degree shows that you have mastered a given field while a doctoral degree shows that you have added something to the field.  The capstone writing projects for each degree exhibit this difference; the thesis is based upon work that has already been done and the dissertation is something completely new.

Home Institution: The place where a scholar calls “home”.  This implies that the scholar is somehow in residence at the institution, either as a student, candidate, or professor.

 Committee: An assembled group of scholars (who, ideally, have some expertise in the field which the candidate is writing about) who evaluate the dissertation for its worthiness

alternately, you could find a partner to go dance in a bookstore with.  No word of a lie, this is a past time of mine.

alternately, you could find a partner to go dance in a bookstore with. No word of a lie, this is a past time of mine.

as an original piece of scholarship.  Generally, this group consists mostly of scholars from the candidate’s home institution with one outside reader for consistency/fairness/representation of the field at large.

So now that you’re able to use the lingo, your academic street cred just went up by at least 10%.  Seriously.  Go have a latte and stand on the steps of the library chatting about your most recent re-read of a major canonical work and see if I’m wrong.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

One Draft at a Time

Did you hear that?

That, my friends, was the sound of this over-worked, over-stressed, over-tired, and way under-paid (and often under-appreciated) girl making her writing goals for the week.

Yes, in the face almost-astronomic odds, I managed to produce the nine drafts which I expected from myself in four days (that’s 2.25 drafts a day, folks).  If I manage to produce two drafts over the weekend (so work slightly slower than the break-neck pace I set for myself at the onset), I will be in tip-top shape at the beginning of next week and, by the end of the week, ready to turn everything in on time and close the book on this semester.


Perhaps more importantly than the statistics, I’ve managed to write myself over the great mid-draft slump.

You see, I’m a very very slow writer.  I take many many drafts to produce something turn-in-able.  I’ve totally been over this before.  At some point between preliminary vomit draft and pristine turn-it-in paper, I hit what I like to call the “mid-draft slump”.  It’s that point in the paper-writing process where you look at the mess you’ve made, you look at the work you’ve done, and it hits you: this is completely inane.  You haven’t produced anything of value; you’ve barely produced anything.  In fact, all this research you just did is pretty much garbage because it hasn’t led you anywhere.  You’re not saying anything original; you’re not saying anything at all.

It’s a horrible place, an awful place, a place of desperation and darkness.  It’s a place where you simply can’t see your way out, and you just want to bury your face in all of this pulp you’ve produced and cry your little heart dry as your tears intermingle with the ink on the page and create great literary rorschachs.  It’s a place that just makes you want to give up; hang up your red pen and go be illiterate for the rest of your life.

And the only way to get through this place is to write more.  If you find yourself here, it means that you’re still hammering.  It’s inevitable; there’s got to be a place between A and Z.  The process of paper writing is the process of idea formation, and idea formation starts with research.  Getting from a ton of research to your own thought is a process; an action; it’s not a single moment.  You are never going to produce perfection in one draft.  Not no way, not no how.

What makes me nervous is that this go-round, the mid-draft slump was extremely quick.  Nerve-wrackingly quick.  I mean, in the past I’ve been stuck in the mid-draft slump for three or four drafts sometimes.  This time, it took a single draft to work my way somewhere with the bright light of hope shining down upon me.  I guess that this should make me happy (the mid-draft slump isn’t, after all, a very nice place to be), but really it just makes me anxious.  Have I picked something entirely too obvious to argue?  Am I just putting forth an assertion of the facts without adding anything new to the conversation?  Am I repeating myself?  Are these drafts just sixty pages of Graduate-level macaroni pictures?

Maybe for the sake of my own mental health, I have chosen to view this as a good thing.  I’ve come too far this semester to look back now, and I won’t let the accomplishment of my goals (even in record time) make me too apprehensive to savor that fruit.

So take that, mid-draft slump!  Return to the darkness and stay there until the end of next semester!  I have, once again, conquered you with the strength of my mind, the might of my pen, and the force of my sheer stubbornness!

Yea, I simply walked into Mordor.  And I walked out too.  Didn’t need a flying eagle rescue

Thank you, Google Maps.

or anything.

….I’m going to go collapse on my couch and return to my re-read of The Hunger Games now.  That won’t take any brain power and it’ll still make me feel intellectually superior to those who watch TV in their spare time.  I’ll return to being smart tomorrow.  Tonight is all about resting the gray matter.