No matter what each school calls it, every Ph.D. student has a hurdle overcome that amounts to a SUPERFINAL. At Penn State, we call it comps, or comprehensive exam. Basically, we have three hurdles before the Ph.D.
1: Candidacy — This establishes understanding of American studies theory and method, as well as computer literacy (technicality). Over the course of three hours, you answer three essays of 1000 words or more, which reminded me a little of AP exams in high school. After this, we can call ourselves “candidates,” and it takes place after certain coursework requirements are met, usually after the first year. Unlike comps, it’s closed book.
2: Comprehensive — After coursework is complete, one takes comprehensive exams. This is a 96-hour take home exam that is made up of 6 essay questions concerning your subfields. For example, I will have two questions on Theory and Method (standard on all comps), two questions on Popular Culture and Media (subfield #1), and two questions on Business History and Culture (subfield #2). To prepare, we are furnished with a customized reading list of about 90 books, 30 in each field. This is where I am right now, hoping to take the exam in September. It’s a lot of prep, but I feel confident in my knowledge and understanding in my fields. I have been a student of American studies since I was a freshman in college, so I better understand theory and method!
3. Dissertation — Usually on the same day we defend our comps answers (about a week after we complete the exam), we also propose our dissertation. I have worked closely with my committee since year one, so I’m not terribly concerned about proposing. I hope to spend the next year and a half writing, defend in early 2016 and graduating in spring 2016.
So, this blog is about to become a comps blog, with book reviews and thoughts. My friend Becky is doing the same thing, so I figured it can’t hurt.
– The Lady Americanist.