Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On Finishing Comps: Last Hurdle Jumped but I Think I Tripped

Yesterday I finished my last of three comprehensive exams, the last hurdle before I can defend my dissertation prospectus and turn all my attention to writing #DevilDiss.
I have felt good about the three semesters leading up to this. I have completed course work, read for comps, published two articles, written two book chapters, presented at conferences.
I felt really confident about my first two comps.

And then yesterday as I sat in the office to take my final comp, and I turned over the sheet of paper with the essay prompts on it I broke down in tears.
I stared blankly at the two questions. One was on a book on my list but never discussed. The second was something I knew. I just sat there and cried. Overwhelmed by the fact that 50% of something is failing. And suddenly every bit of confidence I had was gone. I felt like I had failed. I felt as though there was no way I was passing this comp. I worked right up to the time allotted (four hours) and immediately asked as I turned it in what the back up plan was for people who failed.
That's how sure I was.
 And just like that five years of work leading up to this, a year and a half of my PhD program seemed like it was going down the drain. I was so upset that when I ran into one of my committee members in the restroom right after I almost broke into tears. When I ran into a friend a few minutes later in the hall, I DID break into tears. I quickly headed home because I'm not usually an emotional person, and I rather cry and lose my shit at home than in public.

Don't get me wrong, after crying in the empty office and having a complete breakdown, I outlined my two essay prompts, I wrote. I was under the page limits the professor had suggested. I added more information. I revised. I edited. I added MORE examples. I ended up with 18 1/2 pages on theory and methodology in four hours. And still feel like an abject failure. My notes say "fuck" a lot. If the professor looks at them that will be interesting.

 My university did away with high pass and just has a pass/fail on comprehensive exams now. I was told by a member of my committee to just focus on passing, HOW you passed was not important.
I feel confident that I passed my other two exams. And rumor has it that I should have results on all three exams some time this week. So at least there's not a prolonged waiting period, and I have a busy week ahead of me. So that's good.
I know there are mechanisms in place if I did fail.
And I appreciate that's it's not just a fail and you're out mechanism.
But I still feel like a failure.
But I have to say I'm struggling a bit. And feeling the lack of support system. While I usually have a pretty big online presence, and support system it was like yesterday everyone was on radio silence. Which meant I curled on my couch under the blanket and looked at the future and just saw a blank space. There was no one to tell me it would be okay. There was no one to tell me I probably did better than I thought.
There was nothing.
I've spoken before about not having an in-person support system. And how always looking like you have your shit together means people never think you need help.
There are lots of blogs (including mine) that talks about how some days in the PhD process are harder than others. That talk about the stress, the lack of confidence, and the process.
I know that worrying this week will not change the outcome. I know that it will only make me feel bad. But knowing that is not going to stop me from mourning the potential loss of my PhD career this week.

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