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