You, too, can survive prelims

Last night, I finished the written part of my prelim exam. Basically, the prelim or comp or qualifying exam is the ultimate pass/fail test. You work your tail off for two weeks writing non-stop. Then a couple weeks later, you sit before your committee as they fire questions at you–partly about what you wrote, partly about anything else they deem important. If you pass, you get to continue to jump hurdles. If you fail, you either have to re-do part of it, or they thank you for your time and wish you a nice life.

But fear not, dear reader. It can be done. Well, the written work can be done. Of course, I have no idea how I’ve done on my responses–and it’s hard to judge when you’ve proofed your work with very little brain matter left. But, hey. It’s over. And for your entertainment (and for some of you, encouragement), I thought I’d give you a little recap to my two weeks of writing.

 

Question 1:
Arrived at noon on Sunday; couldn’t open until the clock started at 9 AM on Monday
Time allotted to answer: 16 hours
Actual time used: 12-ish hours
Butt status: holding steady
# of pages written: 17?
Brain matter: still fully in tact
Time to compose email and attach document: 3 minutes
Time between composing email and pushing Send: 5 minutes

This question came from my scariest committee member, so I had no idea what to expect. It actually wasn’t that bad and served as a good warm-up for getting into the process. I even managed to squeeze in yoga that evening. My butt thanked me for that.

Question 2:
Arrived at noon on Monday; made the mistake of reading it then. Committee member had lapsed into Chinese. Closed the email and kept hammering away at question 1. Talked with committee member 2 on Tuesday morning.
Time allotted to answer: Him: I really don’t care how long you take. Me: Good. Because I think I need about five days to wrap my brain around this question and to formulate a response. Him: I don’t care if you take two weeks.
Actual time used: 15-ish hours spread over four days
Butt status: fair but starting to protest. a lot.
# of pages written: somewhere around 12. He wanted it short and sweet. I was happy to oblige.
Brain matter: foggy but usable
Time to compose email and attach document: 3 minutes
Time between composing email and pushing Send: 3 minutes

Meta-analysis. I knew we’d have to make friends eventually. I actually really appreciated this question since it was work I was going to have to do at some point regardless. I at least have a sense of how to analyze my data (once I have it all) for my dissertation. And, of course, I was haunted for part of the week by that damn Q statistic.

I should stop here and let you know that I realized I would need to reward myself handsomely for finishing this…experience. So I ordered a new yoga mat (one of those THICK sturdy ones for that hard floor in the studio) and a yoga towel. I even sprung for shipment so it was guaranteed to arrive by the end of the week.

Question 3:
Arrived at noon on Monday.
Time allotted to answer: between arrival and 9PM Wednesday night.
Actual time used: hard to say…it got a little hairy those few days
Butt status: me thinks thou doth protest too much…but I’ll let it slide under the circumstances
# of pages written: 21?
Brain matter: I felt it dripping on my shoulder by Wednesday night.
Time to compose email and attach document: 1.5 minutes
Time between composing email and pushing Send: 1 minute

I appreciated this question, too, since it pertained to my dissertation and I can extract the purpose and rationale sections from it. I think. But I was feeling the crunch of time more so than on any other question. Monday, I was in the counseling center with time blocked to work on it a little. Then the front desk asked if I would take a client for another counselor who was in the midst of an involuntary commitment. Then I had two more scheduled clients. Then Tuesday, I had a doctor’s appointment and then class and then actual work in the advising office which was a little nutty. So it was really 3:00 by the time I felt like I got to start something. I worked until 10:30 that night, missing the SOTU so I could do my references section (my apologies, Mr. President). Wednesday, I opted out of work and stayed home that morning. I needed the mental break and had to go to seminar for the counseling center anyway, so I trekked over to class for that. On the way home, I received a phone call to help with the process for dealing with someone who was suicidal. I connected the appropriate people but remained tangentially connected for the next couple of hours. Thankfully, I was nearly done by that point. Actually, I finished writing, proofed (HA!) what I had, and sent it on in time to get some dinner with my family. It was about 7:00.

Those boxes with my mat and towel arrived Tuesday. They sat in my office and stared at me until…
Question 4:
Arrived at 7:30 AM Thursday. Opened the question at 9AM.
Time allotted to answer: 16 hours
Actual time used: 11.5 hours
Butt status: I. can’t. take it. ANYMORE.
# of pages written: 14
Brain matter: What brain matter?
Time to compose email and attach document: 30 seconds
Time between composing email and pushing Send: .001 second

This question was also not bad and was similar in nature to the first one. I sent it off at 8:22 last night and got an email this morning that said, “You realize you sent this a day early, right?” I’m sorry. When you tell me I have 16 hours, I assume that means I have 16 hours. So I’m done. I don’t WANT to look at it anymore. And I’m not going to. Because I have no brain left. And I have clients to see today. That oughtta be interesting.

At some point, maybe this evening while I’m home alone, I’ll clear the rubble in my office. Because I have a dissertation to work on. Specifically, a prospectus that should be in my committee members’ respective in-boxes by Tuesday. Otherwise, I can’t reward myself with my Clinique order.

Moral of the story…You, too, can survive prelims.

PS HELLO, yoga mat and towel. I can’t. wait. to use you this weekend.

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