Looking Back on Comps and Looking Forward toward a Prospectus


So comps happened. I passed. Passing feels awesome.

For anyone unsure, comps is short for comprehensive exams; they are a rite of passage for all doctoral students whereby a potential doctoral candidate must demonstrate both his or her theoretical and methodological knowledge. In other words, the exams are a proving ground. A student must prove he or she is ready for the dissertation phase of their program.

Thankfully, my committee believes I am. Inside today’s post is simple reflection on the process and what I have ahead of me.

All the work I had done for nearly two years culminated last month when I turned my comprehensive exam into my committee. I worked diligently during my coursework to direct as many assignments and reading as possible toward my research interests and goals. Really, any advice I would give to a future doctoral student is to keep this in mind as often as possible, which is hard considering you never know when you will discover your research interest. I suppose I was lucky to discover in the first year my interest in participatory culture, student identity and agency, and critical pedagogy. One class I took a year ago really made me begin focusing my attention on what would become the start of my literature review and while difficult at the time, I remain incredibly grateful I had to do it.

In fact, the last year has really been my opportunity to chip away at my literature review (the studies that have come before mine) and understanding my potential methodology (how I will do the study). In one class this past summer, I had to wrestle with organizing my literature review as well as argue for using a Vygotskian methodological approach, which really helped me better understand sociocultural theory–a theory central to the framing of my upcoming study. While certainly not perfect, I remained encouraged by the design of many of my research and English education classes. Each really made tackling comps a manageable and plausible endeavor.

Alright, so yay, my classwork really helped me. Let me move onto some quick background–

Just like I stated earlier, comprehensive exams typically center on a student’s theoretical knowledge and methodological knowledge. Specifically, you get at least one question for each area. Some doc students get more than two questions depending on what the student and committee chair decide. Two was enough for me. Not because I know what I am doing, but because two did not overwhelm me. Keep in mind these are layered and tiered questions that require keen and articulate answers in order to pass. There are also two versions of comps that can occur. One requires a doc student to sit in a room for hours answering a few questions to the best of their ability sans outside resources. The second is where a doc student is given two to four weeks to answer the questions with a much higher expectation in the quality of answers. My comps were the second version. Essentially, I got two weeks for each question so four total. I needed almost every second I got. I even took one day off of work to simply sit in a coffee shop and write for hours to ensure I would finish!

Alright, so now onto what my comps were like.

My theoretical question positioned me to articulate my understanding of sociocultural theory, critical theory, participatory culture, and identity and agency formation*, or I basically wrote what will become my literature review a.k.a. chapter two of my disseration. My methdological question positioned me to essentially write the third chapter of my dissertation where each point I made pinpointed an aspect of my methods, including the what (qualitative case study), the how (data collection methods and analysis), the who (setting and participants), the when (timeline) as well as arguing for the study’s trustworthiness and ethics.  I really appreciated my chair and committee designing my questions in a way that put me in position to successfully generate my prospectus, which requires all the information I wrote about (more on this in a moment). In the end, I wrote about fifty-five pages of content with about five pages of references. The process was in part a ritual and in part a labor of love. When I finished writing and sent it along to my committee, I felt a mixture of relief, exhaustion, uncertainty, and acid reflux. I felt I did well and would pass, but there was no way to know for sure until I got work from the committee. Traditionally, a committee gets two weeks to review your work. So I waited for two weeks–albeit not anxiously. No, for two weeks I actually just let it go and allowed myself to not be a doc student for a little while. (Do not worry, my job took up the extra time!) Two weeks come and go quickly, and I find out I passed. A milestone met; a corner turned; a hurdle cleared.

So what happens now?

Now, the prospectus, or proposal as my university calls it. A prospectus is the first three chapters of my dissertation–introduction to my study, literature review, and methodology. In order to get this done, I have quite a bit of reading and writing still left to do. My committee supplied me with great feedback, and met with me virtually last night to let me ask questions. The result is the path I now have before me as an official doctoral candidate. I still need to map the path out, but at least I can see the direction, and I know what I am looking for as I travel. Over the next month or so I will be writing and reading furiously. I do not have to do it furiously, but I want to in order to meet my own timeline and expectations. So if you do, please say a little prayer for me, and if you do not, send me some positive vibes. I promise I will feel both.

I realize this post will only interest a select few, but reflecting on what I have gone through and looking ahead is always cathartic for me. If the post happens to help someone else out or at least resonates, then I will take that as a small win. In any case, thanks for reading.

Again, check out my class’s blog ‘The Insiders’ 

* This is just to acknowledge my laziness for not citing some of what I have referenced in today’s post parenthetically. That’s the beauty of this being my blog I suppose. Still, below is some light** reading if you find yourself interested:

** = Sarcasm

Ahearn, L. M. (2000). Agency. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 9(1-2), pp. 12-15.

Holland, D., Lachicotte Jr., W., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (2003). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Boston: Harvard College.

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Moje, E. B., Luke, A., Davies, B., & Street, B. (2009). Literacy and identity: Examining the metaphors in history and contemporary research. Reading Research Quarterly, 44(4), 415-437.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In L. S. Vygotsky (Ed.). Collected works (Vol. 1, pp. 19-285, R. Rieber & A. Carton, Eds., N. Minick, Trans.). New York: Plenum.


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