Comps: Day 1

There are many different ways to do comps*, but in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona students have 3 weeks to write 50 double-spaced pages in response to questions asked by the members of their committees.**

My three weeks started about 15 minutes ago. Following my advisor’s advice, I am spending my first day outlining all of the questions. That way, when I start the Serious Outlining that proceeds Real Writing, I won’t be stuck after finishing my last question but will have a clear direction already set (and open to adjustment). In more detail, here’s what that will look like.

Step 1. Break down each question into its constituent parts. If there aren’t constituent parts inherent to the framing of the question, attempt to add them your self.

Step 2. For each part of each question, make note of all the citations you think you might want to draw upon in your answer. This is in response to my advisor’s suggestion that, fundamentally, you need to show you have a good grasp on what you’ve read.

Step 3. For each committee member’s question, identify 2-3 key examples from the appropriate bibliography to illustrate your argument and use as a connection point for the other readings. This is also a response to my advisor’s point that there’s really not enough space for more examples than that, and while its good to gesture at the scope it is also (maybe more) important to demonstrate depth.

Step 4. Watch a movie. In my last bit of asking around, a few people told me that lots of people watch a lot of movies during comps – something about intense focus for long chunks of time needing inversely intense passivity when not writing. Also naps.



* aka the comprehensive exams, aka qualifying exams, aka quals
** It is understood that they have spent a significant amount of time preparing for this (indeed, bibliographies and statements must be submitted in advance). Also, this is followed by an oral examination a couple of weeks after the written portion ends.

4 thoughts on “Comps: Day 1

  1. It is really exciting that you are starting your comps! Congratulations!!! I am not sure if you are still looking for advice, or if you have had enough of it already, but here are a few quick comps tips I thought of…

    1) When I did my comps, I found it useful to do the easy questions first. The hard questions turned out to be time traps. I found myself fretting over the difficult questions, and as a result, taking longer to write them. While it is good to spend some time on hard questions, doing the easy questions first helped me to pace myself and to make sure I didn’t spend more time then I had on hard questions.

    2) I don’t think it is that useful to think about your comps in terms of passing or not passing. In reality, you have a committee of people you deeply respect getting together for you, to push the limits of your thought and to help you to think about your work in new ways. And they are really rooting for you. It is pretty much an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In any case, I think it would be kind of a shame to get stressed out about being judged and not make the most of the experience.

    3) When I did my comps, I fretted a bit about whether or not to stick to arguments I felt super comfortable making, or to explore some new arguments which I could support but wasn’t entirely certain of. I am not sure if this is good advice, but I ended up taking the risk and testing out some new arguments. I got shot down in some places by my committee, but in the end I was really glad I took the risk. I felt like I got more out of the experience, and like I had shared with the committee what I actually thought, not what I thought they wanted me to think, which felt good.

    4) When you come to your oral defense, make sure to bring the required paperwork. It is possible that no one will mention anything to you about paperwork, but there are definitely some forms which your committee will expect you to have printed and ready for their signature (or at least, that was the case when I did my comps). I didn’t have the forms ready, and–while it wasn’t the end of the world–it made what should have been an exciting, awesome experience needlessly stressful.

    Good luck Sam! And enjoy your comps!!!

    • Yay, that is excellent advice, thank you! I want to do an easy one first, but I’m struggling with which that might be … And especially thank you for #2. It’s easy to remember I respect them, but it hard to remember they are rooting for me and I DO tend to get stressed about the judgment aspect (and blocked in writing by it).

  2. Pingback: Comps Strategies: Write fragments, take naps | Sam Grace

  3. Pingback: Comprehensive: having an extensive mental range or grasp | Sam Grace

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