Wednesday, December 3, 2008

One Day to Defense

In a little over 24 hours, I will sit down with my three-person committee, present them with a brief reminder of the key points of my 10,000-word review paper, and let them grill me for an hour. Such is the "comprehensive exam" in my department. I don't feel sick, but my brain definitely feels numb.

I could be lucky, in that there was only a single hour of overlapping availability between the three faculty members. It means my advisor advised against doing a real presentation, like I did for my master's, because her take on the other members is that they'd want to get right into the questions. So I don't have to try to put together a powerpoint presentation tonight. However, I can't shake the feeling that I won't be able to satisfy them all in such a short period of time; they'll still have questions left, and they won't want to pass me.

I just won't be comforted. Having a fellow grad student, who defended her comps last month, tell me that she passed on the grounds that it was clear she had learned a lot, she already had a post-doc set up, and didn't have the time to revise her comps and writer her dissertation by the end of the school year, does not make me feel any better about it. I have no such time pressures, and I really don't want to spend my winter break making any revisions, let alone extensive ones.

I'm just about burnt out on the topic. I'm not even sure I want it to be my dissertation topic. Part of the problem is that there was just too much time between writing the paper and defending it - three weeks. The timing was dictated by graduate school paper requirements and an unfortunate placement of Fall Break, and the effects became apparent in yesterday's meeting with my advisor. Studies that I knew backward and forward at the time of writing are now blurred; I don't know if I can call them all to mind when I need to, and I don't know if I have the willpower to sit down and try to re-learn them all tonight.

At some level I'm convinced it's over with, and there's no point to brushing up. My writing has always been stronger than my ability to think on my feet; I just wish the writing could speak for itself, without all this extra grilling on whatever the weak points of writing are. (This probably sounds really stupid - obviously the writing can't speak for itself if there are weak points to be grilled on. I think that the day-before-defense should be understood to be one of completely illogical and nonsensical thinking).

My advisor was able to pinpoint a few points and papers that I should brush up on, as they are the ones she is more likely to ask, or seem weakest to her (It must be tough, being the advisor. How do you advise the stressed-out student without giving away all of your questions in advance? Or could it be that she doesn't care, because she sees the defense as a formality and is already willing to sign the paperwork?). I've put myself to about five articles (of the 100+ reference list) to review and reconsider. I should just about be able to stagger through those. Then I have one night of recovery, before I start writing one last (mercifully short, at 7-9 pages) paper for the semester.

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