I participated in a panel with some fellow third-year grad students in CCI this afternoon. We talked about our experiences with comprehensive exams, mostly to students who haven’t finished them or are preparing for them right now.
I was struck by how different the experience is for each person. There are differences based on fields (CCI has students in journalism, communication, advertising, and information science), based on the personalities of the committee members, the pedagogical styles of the committee chairs, and the subject field of the dissertation, and more. All of these are external factors, outside of the control of the student.
Internal factors, like styles of writing, studying, reading, managing stress, communicating with committee members and more create further confusion. Like the dissertation, there doesn’t seem to be any one, best way to go through comprehensive exams.
The biggest lesson I learned from my experience is learning to manage the tedium. Sometimes there are hurdles, real or imaginary, personal or organizational, that you just have to wade through. Bullheadedness is sometimes the determining quality for success as a Ph.D student.