By: Kayla Allen-Brown, Doctoral Candidate, American Studies
In October, I sat for my comprehensive doctoral exams. Honestly, the whole process was nerve-wracking, and now that I am a Doctoral Candidate, I am grateful the process is over. Though this process is different for everyone, here are six tips that immensely helped me.
- Organize readings from coursework
That may sound like a no-brainer, but this is my most important tip. During my coursework, I stayed up to date on my class readings. I also began to develop an annotated bibliography by organizing material by topic. While reading, I took extensive notes. Though I tried several notetaking apps, I always returned to my handy notebooks. Structuring and organizing your reading notes develop a thematic literature review. Creating a literature review helped me to locate theories and analyze differences. This process of reading and writing immensely helped me during my comprehensive exams.
2. Write every day!
Mentors would tell me, “make sure you write every day, Kayla.” At first, I thought it was a little excessive now I know how valuable writing is. Writing kept me focused. If I was not writing for a class, I tried to write about my research interests. While reading, if I came across a vital quote, I copied it down. I also wrote down any key terminology and connections between each reading.
- Take a break if you need to.
My self-care routine looked a little different for my comprehensive exams. While writing my exam, I also made time for fun workout classes that provided me an outlet to relieve my stress, increase my movement, and boost my mental health for my exams. Additionally, they were days when I didn’t write because I got burnt out very quickly. Honoring times just for myself was me was extremely important. Be sure to take care of yourself by getting exercise and a good night’s sleep. Work on the exam based on your body rhythm and try to have practices in place to relax. Do what works best for you!
- You will not know the answer to every question, which is okay.
As much as I tried to prepare, I did not know every answer, but I knew the direction my committee member wanted me to focus. If you are unsure about a question, don’t panic. Hang in there. As Ph.D. students, there is a lot of pressure to become experts in our research. However, I believe that missing something is bound to happen. During the oral exams, it’s okay to say, “I need to research this further.”
- Change up your location
Writing in a different location helped me a lot during this process. I must admit that it wasn’t always convenient to carry bags of my books around. Some days I would write in my apartment, and other days I would write at the library. I scouted out my favorite study rooms and tried to book them accordingly. The study rooms at the library gave me a quiet space with sunlight. Also, I could bring my whiteboard markers to write out information if I needed to.
- Affirmations are powerful
I wrote down affirmations on sticky notes and placed several around my apartment and in my notebooks. Though this may seem different, it helped me to combat my anxiety and fight against imposter syndrome. Also, I shared that I was sitting for comps with several friends and family members who checked in and sent their good thoughts. I am very grateful for my village showing up and caring for me during the most stressful times of my life. Remember that you are more prepared than you think. No matter what, breathe and try to relax.