Fear of comps

My poor grad students. In this morning’s seminar, we finished up our trek through the terrible text of social history a bit early, so I turned the topic to practical matters in the field that they wanted to know about. They asked about journals, article submission and doctoral programs — all good questions. Still, it’s possible to shock M.A. students when you touch on the comps process.

It’s not like I think my own experience was particularly brutal — three fields, major field with 60-80 books, minor fields with about 40-50 books each, if I recall correctly. Exams administered at about 19 or 20 months into the doctoral program: three three-hour written exams followed by an oral exam informally administered by the entire group of four profs (I had two profs jointly administer my major field since my supervisor drew the line at the accession of Elizabeth and the official definition of the period under study went through the end of the Stuart reign). And I didn’t even go into the horrors of having that second major field examiner turn to me, after an hour of non-stop questioning and ask me exactly how many members of Parliament were there at the end of Elizabeth’s reign.

Anyone? Bueller?

I panicked, quietly, and said I believed the answer was approximately four hundred. It was an acceptable answer and, thus, I passed my comps.

4 Responses to “Fear of comps”

  1. Alice Says:

    I am getting close to my comps — maybe about three semesters?

  2. Dr. Virago Says:

    My own MA students think a 4 hour, four question written exam on 33 set texts, plus the ability to explicate a poem, taken at the end of two years, is TOO MUCH.

    Um. I really, really don’t want to turn into one of those “in my day” old farts, but they’re pushing me there.

  3. Another Damned Medievalist Says:

    Mine were two days, five hours and four questions each. Then 2 hours of fairly formal orals — normally four profs, but in my case, only three, since my advisor was both Roman and Early Medieval. I can’t even remember how many books … the list took up lots and lots of pages, though.

  4. Bardiac Says:

    Looking back, comps are much less scary than they were when I took them, but gosh, they were scary then.

    We didn’t actually have a list, because that would have been too easy; instead, we were supposed to figure out everything and be ready for anything. (This is lit, though.)

    The worst questions I had were a question about one of Lydgate’s works I hadn’t made it to (which I just admitted), and then nastily said that I’d been bored with the one I had read. One of the early modern profs laughed out loud at that, so I guessed it wasn’t going to hurt me too much. But then this same prof handed me some random Samuel Daniel sonnet and asked me to do a Lacanian reading.

    Err, now I AM going to have an exam nightmare tonight, after all these years!