Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Committee

My comps committee has, with substantial revisions, approved my comps paper proposal. Not that revisions are a bad thing; the main comments were prefaced with "it's way too ambitious and you're going to go crazy trying it that way", and followed with "overall, it's really interesting!" - fifty-five minutes later.

I didn't want to use the same three-person committee I had used for my first two years. My advisor is (obviously or fortunately, take your pick) still the same. We have a relatively small group of faculty - less than a dozen - so I wasn't exactly spoiled for choice. I wound up with one other person from my master's committee, because that's the only other person in our department who does research using our methodology, if not quite in our domain; very helpful for experiment design and feasibility assessment.

The third person on my committee is new, one of two faculty members I haven't had a class with. I haven't actually spoken with her since my prospective weekend, when I struggled not to doze off while attending her lab meeting. I was hopeful she had no idea who I was. The request was based on the fact that my comps paper marks my attempts to get beyond my advisor's research; the half of it that is not my advisor's area of expertise is this person's. You could tell, because she's the reason the committee meeting lasted as long as it did.

I was somewhat prepared for this by her probing questions to a lab mate's colloquium presentation just an hour earlier. I said very little during the meeting, my contributions being mainly the furious typing as I tried to get down all the references that I should have included on my reading list, the brief lecture on how what I was looking at really worked, and assorted sections I should cut, adjust, or expand. I started out planning to organize comments by who made them, but they were all from one person, so there wasn't any point.

None of this is a bad thing, of course. It's the kind of revision that turned a never-going-to-be-read 15,000-word master's thesis into a 4,500-word article that, while never going to be published or presented, at least I can show off to my family if they want to know what I did to get the fancy degree. All those comments might very well keep me from going crazy as I attempt to demonstrate my ability to synthesize different literatures and produce novel ideas. But first I have to pick through two full single-space pages of notes and track down "that review paper in Journal Name that discussed your topic", among others.

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