Chris Uggen's Blog: failing prelims, failing comps, failing quals

Saturday, July 29, 2006

failing prelims, failing comps, failing quals

graduate students in sociology and criminology must typically pass some sort of qualifying examination before writing their dissertation. some students pass over them like speed bumps, others crash but pass them eventually, and a fair number crack up, write themselves off as totaled, and leave academia for good.

as the scan at left makes clear, i was in the second category. it was a fair exam and i'm in no way bitter about the experience. i'm writing about it now in case someone else finds themselves in my air pegasus' this summer. let me state it as simply and clearly as i can: just because you fail an exam doesn't mean that you won't become a good professor.

for those who've never failed an exam, this probably seems too obvious to mention. still, it is easy to doubt yourself, especially if you are not really sure you belong in grad school in the first place. moreover, there is a huge asymmetry in the positive and negative information that people self-disclose. for example, i proudly list the exam that i "passed with distinction" in the honors and awards section of my cv, though i haven't reported "failed 1991 preliminary examination in social stratification." maybe i should.

at wisconsin, the prelim procedure involves two six-hour departmental written examinations, along with an oral. at chicago, there is also a very general comprehensive exam that everyone must take at the start of their second year. at minnesota, we ask students to produce and defend a paper that critically evaluates the state of knowledge in their areas of specialization -- something like an annual review of sociology article. most other departments seem to adopt some variant of these approaches.

a written exam system such as wisconsin's might be toughest on those working in new areas or the interstices of the discipline, since they will be tested on stuff that is worlds away from their own work. i really like the idea of the chicago system -- identifying the core of sociology that the department believes every student should know -- but can imagine this is a contentious process for the faculty and daunting for the students. our system seems to work very well for students who are already reading voraciously in their areas, writing articles, and attending professional meetings, but less well for others.

i can't say that i thought seriously about quitting academic life after failing the prelim, though the tortured scrawl on this page suggests that it stang me pretty good. i hadn't been a sociology major as an undergrad and since i had applied to the wizversity's creative writing and social work programs as well as sociology, i did consider dusting off that novel and renewing acquaintances in the madison social service community. but i had too much financial and social support to leave sociology, as well as the knowledge that several sociologists i respected had also failed the exam. the latter knowledge helped a lot.

so, i sucked it up and studied hard for the next stratification prelim. you know how a computer's welcome screen sometimes gets burned into a cheap crt monitor? to this day, there's a path diagram of the sewell, haller, and ohlendorf (1970) status attainment model similarly etched onto my memory.

i still believe that the system was fair and that the standards were appropriately applied in my case. that said, allen ginsberg surely had some exposure to grad comps, quals, and prelims:

"i have seen the best minds of my generation ...
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating ...
who were expelled from the academies for crazy ...
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement ...
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head ..."

just because you fail an exam doesn't mean that you won't be a good professor. as the chronicle is constantly reminding us, there are plenty of good reasons to quit academic life. failing a prelim is not among them.

31 Comments:

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Mike W. said...

I could have used this post 9 months ago, when I failed *my* strat prelim.

Not being accusatory, but still have one more in the way, I do appreciate this kind of post. I would like to hear what kind of coping methods people have for failing such a test (as I'd imagine that many people fail, and fewer for a lack of studying than any other given test).

 
At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, so I buy the argument that "just because you fail an exam doesn't mean that you won't be a good professor," but isn't that obvious? Sort of like saying, "Just because you grow up in poverty and social isolation, surrounded by violence and unemployment, doesn't mean that you won't go on to be just as successful as anyone else." It is true, but distorts the likely reality. I mean, isn't all social science based on probability? So, the real question is "Does the fact that you fail a comp lower the likelihood that you'll be a good professor?" But then again what do I know? I failed my stratification comp too.

 
At 2:20 PM, Blogger A+ said...

"Does the fact that you fail a comp lower the likelihood that you'll be a good professor?"

I personally can't really see how a 6-hour written test has anything to do with whether you'll be a good prof or not. Or a good anything or not, except a good prelim-taker, I guess.

 
At 2:46 PM, Anonymous chris said...

mike, that's why i posted it. maybe i should create a registry of failed prelimtakers. as for coping, i tried to disengage the emotions and focus narrowly on the task at hand -- looking at old prelims, preparing outlines, allocating serious time to the project. deep down, however, i'll admit that i silently harbored the arrogant notion that my vision of sociology didn't map neatly into the categories of existing knowledge. such beliefs were completely unfounded and delusional, of course, and i kept such thoughts to myself. it surely wasn't the reason i failed, but i can imagine that more creative sociologists have actually run into trouble for being "ahead of their time" or trying to somehow reimagine the discipline while in grad school.

anonymous, i agree to a point. the problem is that, for some of us, failure packs such an emotional wallop that we blow things way out of proportion. i certainly wasn't thinking, "well, this lowers the probability that i'll ever get tenure in a good department from .50 to .45, but i guess that's still pretty good." instead, i just thought, "i suck." i doubted my abilities, my decision to attend grad school while trying to raise a family, and my ability to find my place in the discipline.

not to get all hokey with the motivationspeak, but i'd say the same might hold for those kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods. i know the issue of returning prisoners, better, so i can speak to that. ex-felons definitely need to appreciate the difficulties they will face, but seeing concrete positive examples can help keep them from exaggerating those barriers and quitting when their unrealistic plans are squashed like bugs on the windshield. i can only use trivial personal examples, but ... when severely overmatched in sports, hearing the message that "you can beat that guy" motivated me to play better and, sometimes, to actually win.

knowing that failure was pretty much normative in my program (and that those who failed prelims went on to succeed in more important ways) helped put things in perspective. your mileage may vary, of course, but i've run across more than a few people who have similar experiences.

ang raises an important empirical question. i think passing such prelims probably certifies basic competence in an area, at least as it is taught in a particular institutional setting. but i could also hear the foucauldian argument that the prelim is a disciplinary practice that really signals obedience or docility. i'd guess that both competence and obedience are probably predictive of some types of academic success.

 
At 4:11 PM, Blogger dorotha said...

i failed two different prelims and i am leaving grad school now. i definitely feel like a loser, no matter what people wanna say to the contrary. it is especially hard to handle when grad students in the department walk around before and after the prelims claiming that they would never show their face in the sewell building* again should they fail.

* that's the new, official name.

 
At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I passed both my prelims on the first try (neither with distinction; one was strat)... and then dropped out of grad school because I just couldn't get a dissertation & advisor relationship together. So, passing them is no guarantee of anything either. A lot of notable people have failed Wisconsin exams, so it's nothing to be ashamed of for sure.

 
At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yep, sounds like 2 views of a brick wall to me. Funny that we (sociologists?) are so ashamed of such 'hokey motivationspeak' when it is no different from SI's definitions of a situation. The subjective reality stuff is real (if the depression epidemic hasn't taught us that nothing will), if it violates our preferred ways of seeing the world, then we should change our models, not our data. But, that's a rant that has nothing to do with this blog and more to do with, well...

 
At 6:05 PM, Blogger A+ said...

Chris: Your proposed registry of failed prelimtakers makes sense.

In fact, last semester I was just thinking of creating an informal "letter" to be passed down to those who failed, explaining that they're not alone, "signed" by as many people who had failed prelims as would agree to it.

Knowing others had failed made me feel better after I had done so. I'm inspired by this post to get the ball rolling on that letter.

 
At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Chris -- interesting timing as well :). Someday, hopefully, I'll be able to post my fail (email by my time) and it won't matter. My thought is that the Wisconsin system is fair and as good a measure as any for preparedness, quality, and preparation as a sociologist for most students. That said, my experience was baffling and I had no idea what would have constituted a pass in my area. I was pretty bitter for a long time and still experience moments of it. I've had lots of positive feedback about my scholarship both before and since in a number of domains (publication, passes on prelims in another department, fellowships, and teaching evaluations) but the FAILS!!!! have a formality and finality to them that is hard to forget. Maybe I'm just not a 'Wisconsin' sociologist, perhaps the department and I were not a good fit, perhaps I am not a good sociologist by any definition, maybe I'm just a crappy test-taker, or maybe, as one of the faculty members told me, I just answered the wrong questions. Four years later and the questions remain [somewhat] unresolved... The second they resolve themselves one way or the other, I'll be posting it on the web -- 'til then, I'll remain cloaked in shameful anonymity...

I'd like to sign that letter someday too...

 
At 10:32 PM, Anonymous chris said...

i probably shouldn't write any more on this, but ... 3 quick points.

1. the old exam surfaced during a partial move to a new office, in a file labeled high praise for low moments. this probably seems strange, if not ironic.

2. although i maintain a cheesecentric view of graduate study, i really wasn't thinking about wisconsin. i see the issue arise every year across a diversity of programs or systems in soc, crim, and elsewhere. in a big sprawling discipline such as sociology, at least some of the issues seem to hold generally.

3. dorotha, i wish i could write something helpful and supportive. but i bet you've had your fill of the well-intended "you are *so* not a loser!" lectures. all i can say with certainty is that the sting has dissipated over time, for me and for a lot of people i know.

 
At 10:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is especially hard to handle when grad students in the department walk around before and after the prelims claiming that they would never show their face in the sewell building* again should they fail.

Why would they say that? How rude! Not to mention short-sighted.

 
At 7:55 AM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

Dorothy (or anyone else who fails),

I am not nearly as nice as my dear friend Chris Uggen, but wanted to respond.

You're not a loser. I understand your perspective, but failing comps or quals, or dropping out of graduate school, or -- more applicable to me and many of my friends-- failing to get a positive vote at tenure ... .none of that makes you a loser.

Hundreds of thousands of people every year, try something.... for whatever reason it doesn't work out, they move on and are wildly successful at something else.

99.99 % of the population doesn’t know what a prelim is, let alone judge you are as a failure for not passing. Would you have been a “success” if you passed?

We take the profession – in my estimation -- too seriously at times. I think it is important to work hard, have pride in your work, treat your colleagues and other students with respect, but…academics is pretty insular. I would hope you don’t let it define you --- most people don’t care how many ASR’s you have!

So have a drink, and look forward to the next chapter in your life. You will be fine.

 
At 8:21 AM, Anonymous sara wakefield said...

I agree with the punk... but, I think too that for a lot of graduate students, failing prelims/comps/quals is often the first time they've ever failed at anything in school. It's pretty hard to keep it in perspective -- and even though failing at Wisconsin is 'normative' a lot of students pass the first time out of the gate.

The points Chris makes about fit between the student and prelim system does matter quite a lot -- I found the Wisconsin system totally nerve-wracking. My area wasn't well-staffed and no one had taken it in 10 years so you didn't really know what to expect -- and sitting in a room for 6 hours typing furiously made me really anxious. The MN system was a better fit for me because I had a dissertation in mind, was doing research in the area, and don't get anxious about sitting in a room with 5 faculty members talking about the literature... So, which system best 'certifies' me as a competent sociologist? I haven't a clue, but I'm glad it's all over with!

 
At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Lars said...

Prof. Uggen (& others)-

This post seems to have struck quite a number of chords with people, for various reasons. There are so many things going on here, all of which seem to hint at the question: what is success (or failure) in this business? What is it that we are trying to do anyway? I, for one, wish I knew. I tried to drop out of school this year, I took a leave and got a job. And I'm coming back, but I'm still not sure I know why. And I'm scared as hell of failing, even tho' I don't think I could tell you what failure is.

This is probably unfair to you, but as the new chair of your department, it seems like you have a good opportunity to help answer that question: what is success anyway? Or what is failure, if you want to be negative.

Anyway, thanks for this. I think too many people do too good of a job burying the "problems" of their careers.

 
At 9:33 AM, Anonymous chris said...

dang, i've actually prepared a looong speech about this, but i'll spare you the castro-length version. for me, it comes down to finding meaning, or at least sidestepping alienation. to be sure, things look differently once you get the external validation that comes with the degree/job/tenure. still, as you get bigger in the discipline you might just feel smaller unless you find some sort of internal validation.

since i don't want to feel selfish, guilty, and small, what makes me feel bigger? with research it is helping to build an evidentiary base on problems of public as well as scholarly concern. with teaching, it is giving students a really remarkable locked-in experience in the classrooom or as an advisor (and, by the way, i've found that investing in teaching usually pays off in personal happiness). in service, it is helping to build a great department and university (and, also by the way, the aforementioned bill sewell seems like a pretty fine model in this regard), and trying to be of some use in my community.

my particular niche involves finding avenues to help shift the cultural image of the deviant or criminal to better square with the social science evidence. i usually feel more successful when i make progress along these lines in the classroom or in the journals, or in legislative testimony, or wherever. that said, i'd by fibbing if i said that the external validation didn't matter. for one thing, it helps you do the work that really matters to you and maybe even to the world. for another, most of us will never transcend our ego needs. i'm still greedy enough for positive attention that i'll travel halfway around the world if someone wants to give me a plaque and say nice things about me. i still get a rush when an article is accepted and a sting when it is rejected. i still like to get credit for my ideas (external), though part of me is happy when they just find their way to the communities i care about, regardless of whether i get credit (internal).

so, the short answer is that i try to do more of the stuff that makes me feel "bigger" and less of the stuff that makes me feel smaller. the better the ratio (and it ain't all that great right now), the more successful i feel as an academic and as a human being.

 
At 11:58 AM, Anonymous oblion said...

This post and the comments are quite interesting. First, I think this discussion can be applied to teaching also. Are we “bad” instructors because we do not receive rock star evaluations? The opinions are mixed on this. The Center for Teaching and Learning at MN says no because the research points that if you receive lower scores your students probably learned more. However, rankings and other measures of success (i.e Teacher of the Year Award), rest more on high evaluation scores. So, in some ways I think there are a few things to think about here. One is who is evaluating you? For teaching, is it students who expect you to give them an “A” because they paid for the course? Is it students resistant to sociology? But on another note, what is purpose? When I teach a writing intensive course, I know some students will be angry, but my purpose is not give them an “A” because they turned in a paper. Jobs expect them to be able to communicate in writing and they have to demonstrate this ability (which we work on in the course with edits and revisions) to receive a good grade. In thinking about this with prelims and qualifying exams, Sarah brought up a good point. There may be few people who work in your area or you may have the “cream of the crop” at your institution who may expect different things than those at a different school. Will some people because of their area or niche expect you to have different things than others? I do not know, but it’s something I’ve thought about.

I know we are in a field where we do not frequently receive remarks and that it does take a lot to deal with the criticisms (hopefully constructive) we receive.

Though I’m not WI, but have the “lit review” prelim and prospectus, I passed my prelim (though I found this experience to be a bit ambiguous especially when I had not done preliminary research and my topic covers many areas). I also passed my prospectus, but I felt crushed after the defense. But on that note, I took the positive and negative comments and used them to revise my prospectus to apply for department funding, which I subsequently received.

So what do we learn from “failure” or “crushing experiences”? It very well could be that you know you do not want to be an academic. But in my opinion, you can put a positive spin on it. You take the feedback to improve your work and/or you can utilize the comments to “justify” or better explain what you are doing or what your work is about (i.e. I’ve been at great workshops with tons of comments that were “useless” for substantial revisions on what I was doing , but helpful for me to understand how to explain what I was doing).

But on that note, just because you pass doesn’t mean you are good sociologist (or whatever it is you want to be). I’m sure we all know people who have passed prelims or their PhDs not because it was quality work. I would much rather receive the feedback than be the one who passes my PhD and unbeknownst to me is that some people did not want to pass me and other things.

Lastly, as academics I feel that we are to quick to gripe about how tough or jobs or work are. Yes, it’s tough, but I think we have to think about those outside of academia in terms of their work and how they see us. Yes, we don’t always work 9-5, but at the same time I can work at 3am or travel with my work. But that’s not the point I’m getting at. My partner is a computer scientist and currently works as an analyst/consultant. If he makes a mistake, people’s health would be put at risk because of the nature of what he is working on now. Furthermore, he has to be on call. He deals with many different “bosses” and he works in a corporate culture (which I could go on about, but it’s not always easy work). I also think in some ways that we may have more support in academia than the corporate world for some things (i.e. professional organizations).

My partner thinks academia is a great field because we can do what we want (meaning researching what we are interested in). Yes academia can be frustrating and we must jump through hurdles, but what job do you not have to do this? Even though academia can be frustrating, I have put my struggles in context and really do find my work gratifying even though I know I may “fail” at some things.

 
At 10:20 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

I am nowhere near prelims/comps/quals, but I find life inside and outside the Ivory Tower to be rife with opportunity for humiliation and failure. In addition to a decent therapist, I've found preemptive laughter to be a useful coping mechanism, both in academic and other settings. For example, this evening I fell off my rolling office chair in front of a dozen or so incarcerated juvenile delinquents. In mid-fall, prior to my arse hitting the carpet, I made a conscious decision to be the first one laughing - and to do so loudly. Honestly, I think I'd take a room full of scrutinizing profs over one full of cackling teenagers any day. I figure, as long as the joke's going to be on me, I might as well be the first to enjoy the laugh.

 
At 9:41 AM, Blogger Janet Stamatel said...

It's great that you could share this. While I agree with Sarah that academia is rife with humiliation and failure, it's also full of pretentiousness and ego-massaging. While all grad students experience the humiliation and failure, few are willing to acknowledge it or share it for the benefit of others.

One of the main problems with the grad school experience is that we recruit high achievers into a system that has a high risk of rejection and failure, with no attempt to socialize the students into the new system. At some point in your career you accept rejection/failure as part of the learning curve, but it's a hard lesson to learn.

What is most disturbing about your exam is the way that an "educator" communicated the message to you. That second page is horrible!

Finally, as a Chicago soc alum, I can say that while the general prelim was brutal, it was a worthwhile experience and I still value the knowledge that I gained from it, although I question whether a 6-hour exam is the best means to the end.

 
At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helpful information. As a professional school graduate (JD/MBA), what I find most bizarre about your experience is:

Did your intellectual superiors expect you to pick up the exam material by telepathy? Or was there some organized effort to teach a structured amount of information and knowledge?

Was the exam, to be a "brain-dump" of information? Like, a percentage of data-points to be noted?

As to any essay portion: was the outcome, pre-determined in the lesson delivery? Or, was it some sort of "we'll know it, when we see it" kind of exam?

In sum: whole process seems like total bull. Anyone with an iota of common sense can see that. No wonder the Stallings Commission is tearing higher-ed a new butt-hole.

 
At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm taking a uw prelim tomorrow, and i've all but convinced myself i'm going to fail. and it's not because i don't know the material. i really do know the material. it's because even after meeting with all three members of the committee, i still have no fucking clue what they wanted me to study, so i cast a very wide net. and the more i read, the more i became convinced that what i know doesn't even cover the the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

so yeah, i'm fucked for tomorrow. but i bet i'll pass when i take it again in january. then i'll fail my next prelim next august and pass it the following january. by then maybe i'll have a dissertation topic figured out.

 
At 11:32 PM, Anonymous chris said...

best of luck to you, anonymous, and to others taking exams this summer. i'd be more critical of any individual exam procedure if i thought i could offer a convincingly better alternative.

some economists might suggest that opportunity costs could bring down the study-for-a-year-all-day-exam qualifying procedure. if the lost time and energy outweigh the value of the credential that students bring to the market, the system will have difficulty sustaining itself (as an extreme case, imagine a system in which it took five years to pass prelims, during which time no articles were written or papers presented. the students would be severely disadvantaged on the market). nevertheless, such an argument presumes that other programs can craft more effective or efficient qualifying procedures. i'm still not convinced that's the case.

for now, i'll just pass along some positive thoughts to those working their way through the machinery -- and offer some reassurances to those who find themselves caught in its teeth, as i did.

 
At 11:30 PM, Blogger Professor Zero said...

In my experience, people fail for two reasons only:

a) they really, really bombed it, and they are problematic in other ways (as in, they don't make it to the class they are supposed to teach), and somebody wants to stop them now;

b) they are actually quite good, and screwed up somewhat, and somebody wants to make sure they do good work now, so they can keep doing good work in the future.

'Low pass' is the grade to worry about. It tends to mean, OK, this person will slide through to degree, but unless things change at dissertation time, we don't foresee them doing well on the job market.

These general impressions do not, of course, cover cases of discrimination, temporary or permanent insanity of professors, etc.

 
At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helpful information. As a professional school graduate (JD/MBA), what I find most bizarre about your experience is:

Did your intellectual superiors expect you to pick up the exam material by telepathy? Or was there some organized effort to teach a structured amount of information and knowledge?


For qualifying exams in my field (physics), the exam covers all of your undergraduate and graduate coursework in physics. For the preliminary exam, the exam covers all coursework in your field plus a set of papers beyond your coursework that you're expected to study on your own.

While the coursework provides a structure for the basic knowledge in the field, the purpose of the PhD is to go beyond the frontiers of the field and the ability to analyze papers and extract what's important on your own is essential to succeeding as a researcher. Remember that the average time to complete a science PhD is 6.5 years and only 1-2 years of that time is spent on coursework.

Was the exam, to be a "brain-dump" of information? Like, a percentage of data-points to be noted?

No, it tests your ability to apply your learnings of the topics specified above to a set of novel problems in those areas. It's pretty much like a final exam in a physics course except that it covers a wider range of material.

 
At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Lars said...

i'm due to get my strat exam here in 2 minutes. i kepe this post in my mind ever since i have read it to keep things in perspective. thanks.

 
At 7:31 PM, Anonymous chris said...

good luck on the exam. here's hoping you passed with distinction...

 
At 2:27 PM, Blogger daughter said...

thank you so much for this, i just really really needed to find this today

your generosity has made a huge difference for me - i'm getting ready to give it a second go, and now have much better perspective to approach it with

much appreciated!

 
At 11:40 AM, Blogger mimi1987 said...

Although I found this years after it was posted it has encouraged me to continue. I failed the comp exam at the college I am attending who will then determine whether or not I am qualified to teach. I can only take it one more time, that is their rule. If I fail it again, they will not recommend my certification. I will then be out thousands of dollars and they will not give me my masters to boot! I think it is totally unfair that we only have two opportunities to pass this exam, while the state allows us to take their exams as many times as we need to, for a fee of course. I think there should be some sort of customer satisfaction or guarantee. I paid them an extreme amount of money and the stress of taking a six hour exam -- again -- is killing me. Just as A+ said, "I personally can't really see how a 6-hour written test has anything to do with whether you'll be a good prof or not. Or a good anything or not, except a good prelim-taker, I guess." And I swear I have had pains in my hand since I took them two months ago, no they are not typed -- they are hand written!!
Thanks for letting me vent!

 
At 10:59 AM, Blogger Robert Hauser said...

Chris --

A close friend at UIC just pointed me to this entry on your blog. You may feel free to add my name to the list of the "walking wounded," for I miserably failed a social org exam at the Univ of Michigan some 40+ years ago. The chair of the committee told me that he had before never seen such a rotten examination performance; according to my wife, I had spent the summer preparing for it by cursing loudly while holding a copy of Parson's Structure of Social Action upside down in my lap. In the end, the Department changed its requirements so I could get through that hurdle by passing a relevant course, which was very easy for me to do. And once I started doing research and getting it published, no one ever knew or cared what I had done in graduate school. In fact, just a few years later, I was offered (and declined) the directorship of the Center for Social Organization at UMich.

Many years ago, the UW Madison had a grad student who had failed one of the prelims repeatedly -- at a time when, as I recall, we had a 3-repeat limit -- and it took a vote of the Department to waive the requirement on the grounds that, with 11 refereed publications in major journals, he must have something going for him.

Another UW student had great difficulty with prelims and is now both a distinguished professor and a minister in his nation's cabinet.

Apparently, some people thrive on prelim-taking, while others do not. And there are any number of great prelim-takers whose subsequent work has been less than stellar. Fortunately, UW-Madison now places no limit on repeats. And getting through somehow is what matters, for it opens up opportunities, but in and outside of academia.

With that sort of experience, you might think that I'd like to abolish prelims altogether, but that is not my preference. The important thing about prelim-taking, oral or written, is not the exam but the preparation for it, intensive reading and _practice_. My advice to grad students at Madison is, first, to do some general and specific reading in the area and, second, to pick representative questions from previous prelims (which are available to all and sundry here), write out complete answers to them on an open-book basis, and ask faculty members to read and comment on those essays before the prelim date.

Robert M. Hauser

 
At 5:36 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

Many thanks, Bob. I'm honored to add your name to the Registry of Failed Prelim-takers. At minimum, such experiences offer a little anticipatory socialization for the inevitable rejections of academic life. I agree wholeheartedly that "getting through somehow" is what matters.

 
At 6:40 PM, Blogger keesa said...

I defend mine in one month and one day! Eeek.

 
At 12:15 AM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

knock 'em dead, keesa!

 

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