February 13, 2016

Reflections on Day 2

It is Saturday, and I am officially done with part one of my comprehensive exams. I survived, praise be to God, I survived! It was a long day yesterday, longer than the previous day (well, it seemed so). I think day two was harder, in my view, than day one. I am guessing it is because of the adrenaline rush from day one -- you know -- that nervous anxiety that pushes you through whatever challenge you face? Yes, I was beat by noon, and I still had two essays to write in the afternoon session. Needless to say, by 4:30, I was done. I was worn out, and my brain simply said, "No go!" The good news is that I had finished my essay, and was spell-checking and proofing. I could have written more, but I was out of gas at that point, so I left it as is. I believe that in total, I wrote 34 single-spaced pages over a two day period. And, who says you cannot write an essay in an hour? Ha! I jest with my students who complain that the five weeks they have to write 1,000 words isn't long enough. Yeah, tell me about it!

I am blessed, so blessed. Today is a rest day for me. I have today and tomorrow to grade student essays, and then as things would work out, I have the holiday on Monday and my normal Tuesday off. This means I have a four day weekend to rest and recover. God is so good, so very good to me. My plan is to rest, of course. My plan also includes some shopping and mailing of my official answers back to Regent University. In all, I am going to take it easy, just go with the flow, and enjoy my blessed rest. He is good, so very good to me! Selah!

This will be a short post today because I am still recovering from writing volumes the last two days, but I wanted to update my reflections while they are still fresh in my mind. My colleagues who are coming behind me may find my list helpful or not helpful, but these reflections will be available should anyone want to see them. Note: in comprehensive exams for my degree program, day one consists of core areas and day two is elective study or focused research. In this way, day one is more difficult from a subject-matter standpoint. However, day two can be fun, interesting, and provide opportunities to demonstrate subject-matter expertise.

Relaxation is Key

I was far more relaxed yesterday because I knew what to expect from the exam process. One of my theories for my theory answer was Berger's Uncertainty Reduction Theory which states that people will do whatever necessary to reduce anxiety and uncertainty in situations they are facing. This is specifically true in relationships where individuals will attempt to get to know as much about a potential date BEFORE meeting in order to reduce the uncertainty factor. The same though can be said of any situation that causes stress or anxiety. My test, for example, is a good case in point. You see, I was so apprehensive about the test, so in preparation for it, I tried to learn as much about the parameters of it by asking peers who had previously taken it. I queried my professors, and I asked other PhD's to share their experiences. Even with the knowledge I had on hand, I was still uncertain as to what to expect that first day. Once the first day was over, however, my level of uncertainty dropped to the point where I was able to manage the stress going into day two. I was less stressed yesterday, even though I think the questions were harder in some ways (unique to me and to my interests) alone. Had I been more relaxed going into that first day, I wouldn't have choked on the first question as much, and I think I would have enjoyed the process more. I certainly would have felt better coming out of day one. So my word of advice -- relax -- and let the test unfold. If you have prepared, just take your confidence in with you, and let it go.

Think Outside the Box

I am so glad that I chose to use outside sources for my day two answers. I used other publications, books, and articles that I had read over the course of my study time, and these were KEY to the success of my answers. These studies gave me a way to step outside the box and look at the big picture. I feel more confident knowing that my answers were strong because of my use of other sources besides class texts.

Use What You Know

One of my questions was written directly to my knowledge of organizational communication. I had expected a stronger leadership focus, and frankly, I had prepared for leadership theory more than for organizational theory. In the end, the question came out of social media (a class I had taken, but not studied at all for because I thought I wouldn't be asked about it). The good news is that the question aligned with my professional experience as a designer. I don't know if my professor was aware of that fact or not, but it was a bonus to me. I wrote this answer quickly, and because it was what I knew, I drew in my research from other areas to support my proposal. It was a great question to answer, and I think it showed my breadth of ability.

In Summary

I think, in all, these exams identified weaknesses in my studies. I don't fault my professors at all, but generally, I see gaps where I didn't connect the dots very well. I struggled through my core classes as I tried to digest them and figure out their purpose. For example, history of communication seems straight forward, but in reality it is not so much about the inventions that have created our communication media, but rather it has been about the ideas that served to suggest ways to communicate. I didn't get this until yesterday -- after I had choked on my history question -- and reflected some about my performance. I realize now that how we see the world, our worldview determines how we see everything that has been created, invented, and produced by mankind. These inventions, their values, their uses, shape and influence what we come to see, to believe, and to accept as our reality. In truth, history is socially constructed, and our reality is shaped by our perception of the world around us.

Moreover, as I did my best to write my theory answer, I realized just how much I don't know and understand about theory. I struggled to process the theories of the field of communication, to see how they integrate into the whole. The gaps that I have are the result of the fact that these theories simply represent one way to view the world, to conceptualize the map of the field of communication. Theories explain and describe phenomena, and the provide a way to help understand why people behave the way they do or to examine the particular influence of a thing (media, for example) on our perceptions of reality. Patterns of interaction, how we engage each other in communication, and the struggles we have to communicate effectively are all summarized through various ways in order to give sense, to help us make sense of ourselves and our social interactions in the world around us. Theory, therefore, encompasses a mass of knowledge that no one scholar or theorist can ever hope to grasp or to understand completely. This is why theory building and the process of developing theory is ongoing. It is a living process, and as such, it is constantly changing. Littlejohn says that a "static field is a dead field," and he is correct. The field of communication will never be static so long as humans and inventions (media) interact with one another.

Lastly, I struggled with method throughout my program. As a student of the humanities, my preferred choice in research was criticism, so when I found out I would have to learn other social science methods, well, I was a bit put off. I slogged my way through quantitative research and then survived qualitative research. When I finally studied historical-critical, I realized that it was "my method." The funny thing is that as I spend time thinking about research, I realize that I enjoy all three research methods equally. I really enjoyed quantitative research when I did it. I have come around to ethnography, and the more I think about it, the more I can see myself using it in time. And, yes, rhetorical history will always be a part of my method of choice, but rather than focus on one method in particular, I think I will use whatever method serves the study best. I didn't understand this in the beginning but I do now. I see that the method is predicated on what you want to know about a given situation. Once you know what you want to learn about individuals and their experiences, you design your study around the method that serves the situation best.

The process of studying for exams has been grueling. Now that the written portion is over, I am confident, very confident going into the oral defense. I know I made errors in my answers. I was nervous, my brain had a little "fart" on me, and I said some things in haste. I will correct those things, I will make adjustments, and I will be ready. It is no big deal, at the least, this is how I feel. I know my stuff well. I may not have presented myself as well as possible, but in truth, oral defense is my strength. I don't think I need to over do anything, but I will prepare just the same, and I will be ready to engage in dialogue with my professors on various points of interest. God is good, and I know He will be there with me. I am ready, I am prepared, and I am excited to tackle this final hurdle, to advance to candidacy, and to move on to completion of my PhD.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for your grace as I sat these exams. I couldn't have done it without you, and while I struggled some with getting settled and down to business, you covered me so well. I wasn't nervous, anxious or overwhelmed. I was ready, I was prepared, and I did my best. I pray now that as my professors read my answer's they will see my effort as worthy. I pray for favor, for consideration, and for the next step -- moving from student to ABD -- so I can complete your will. I ask that you go before me and prepare my way. Help me to rest today, to take care of the business at hand, and then to start to prepare for my defense. I ask that you would continue to guide this process, prepare me, and give to me the words I need to say when the time comes. I am ready, Lord. I am ready to do this. I will not shirk back in fear, and I will not go "gently into that good night." You are my Captain, you are my Guide. You give me strength, you build me up, and you carry me through the storms as they rage around me. I trust you, I rely on you, and I give you all praise today. You are good, you are God, and you are my soul's delight. I love you, Lord, and I give you thanks this good, good day!

No comments: