February 12, 2016

Reflections on Day 1

Well, it is Friday, February 12, 2016. I survived day one of my qualification exams. The day, overall, wasn't terrible, not as difficult or awful as I expected. In fact, I would say that it turned out to be better than expected. Yes, it was tiring, and I didn't like the time constraints imposed - two hours for each question, and two questions per four hour block, but generally, the format and framework were as described by my professors and my peers who have sat the exams previously. I am thankful for my preparation, and I am thankful that the first part is behind me. Today, I will go and sit day two, and then for a short while (two weeks), I will relax. My oral defense is on February 26th, in VA, so between now and then I will need to review my answers (yuck!) and make corrections to them. I am not going to even look at them for a couple days (just embarrassment as to how I feel I did). In a few days time, the feelings of "this is awful" should subside, and then I will read my answers and revise them. No big deal. No worries. We are halfway through this painful and difficult process.

The good news is that I came through it in one piece. In fact, last night as I drifted off to sleep, I realized that I was in pretty good shape. I wasn't overly tired. I wasn't depressed or feeling like I had blown it. No, I just felt comfortable about what had transpired. The rest, they say, will come out in the wash (at orals). The day today is shaping up nicely, even if I woke up at 3:45 this morning. I had turned in early last night, so I think I got a good 5.5-6 hours of sleep. My prayer is that I do not fall asleep after lunch, LOL! God is good, though, and He will see me through this good, good day.

Some Notes to Pass On

I am hesitant to pass on anything at this point in the process. I have today's part two of the exam to pass, and then I have my oral defense, still I feel like I need to jot some notes down so I don't forget them.

Don't Overstudy

I was cautioned about over studying or over thinking these exams. I was told to prepare well, but not to over study. I didn't know what that meant, you know, how much is too much? In the end, I think I did overstudy. I gave myself 16 weeks, though really only 8 were spent in deep study. I also didn't spend enough time studying the books (why?) and I waited to re-read some sections until later in the process. If I had to do it over, I would have re-read the books, taken book notes, and then just used my book notes to condense down to bullet points (as my colleagues told me) for each major author and theory. This would have been more efficient and would have made more sense. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Focus on What's Most Important

This was one of the more difficult aspects for me to deduce. I was told that everything was fair game, but the truth is, nothing regarding the class itself has come up in my questions. Yes, reviewing course notes, outlines, and syllabi is probably okay, but don't spend a lot of time on it. The professors want to see what you know, and that means "context" and not volume or the ability to regurgitate facts. I learned this yesterday. I should have focused more on context than on trying to memorize facts. Lesson learned.

Go Deep Only When Necessary

The time constraint is costly, in my view. For example, in theory, there is the tendency to dump everything you know about a theory. In truth, and in practicality, a shortened version would suffice. Include a good practical example of the theory to demonstrate your knowledge and save the details for another day. I spent a lot of time writing about the theories, and more than likely, all that explaining got me into trouble (we will see on Orals day). I am not worried -- I did my best -- but if I had to do it again, I would know my theories well enough to discuss key points in one-two sentences and then offer a solid example. Moving on.

The same is true for history. I wanted to expound on each point, to write everything I could remember about the print revolution. I ended up saying bits and pieces which seemed futile at best. If I got a do-over, I would lightly touch on these inventions and move into analysis of their influence, which is more interesting to read, and more to the point of the exam. Oh well.

Listen to Advice of Others

A colleague of mine graduated from Regent a number of years ago. He said something to me that really made sense. In fact, I had heard a similar thing from other PhD grads (other schools) so I think what I heard is fairly consistent across disciplines. The short of it is this -- you can stress over what to put down on the paper -- but in the end, your professors care more about what you know and what you are going to do with that knowledge then how well you write an essay under stress. I think this is true, at least, I hope it is true. You see, I didn't do my best. I didn't write a winning answer. I didn't write a scholarly paper. I tried to do that, but because of the time constraint, what I wrote was not my best effort. It was okay. My colleagues stressed that in Orals, the professors want to see how well you know the material -- not in details -- but in how well you can relate to it. This means that if you know your books, authors, and other theorists, you should be able to speak something cogent in those areas. If not, then you don't know your field very well. I think the best advice is to remember that the written exam tests what you can recall, but it is meant as a guide to show you gaps in your knowledge. You cannot remember everything. You will make mistakes. You will burp on a question, so what do you do about it? You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and you start over again. In truth, you keep moving on. This exam is part of the learning process, and in many ways, it says "You know a lot, but you don't know everything. Don't stop learning once you pass the test. Keep on studying, be active in your field, use your mind, etc." The process is in place to remind you of how far you have come and of how far you have yet to go. It is a journey, after all, and the goal of every adventure is to stop along the way to see the sights. I think if I had one piece of advice to give my peers who are following after me, it would be to relax and trust the process.

With that in mind, I am going to take my own advice this morning. It is 6:33 and I am enjoying the quiet of my home office. I had my first cup of coffee, and I had some toast for breakfast. My cat, Winston, is perched on my desk beside me. Ike is roaming around the darkened house doing what he normally does in the wee hours of the morning. It is peaceful right now. God is good. I may be a little tired right now, but I feel good. I feel really, really good. My prayer today is to rest and let Him finish this good work. I mean, I have done all that I can do, and now it is up to him to see me through this final set of four questions. I am ready for them, to the best of my knowledge and ability, but I am going to remember the goal -- to test what I know and to identify gaps -- so I can be prepared for the next step, which is my dissertation.

May the Lord bless you and keep you in His tender love and marvelous care this good, good day!

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