Sunday, March 19, 2017

Countdown to Comp Exam...

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I almost skipped doing a post this week, but I'm trying really hard to stick to doing a new post once a week. So I'm just going to ramble for a bit and see what I can churn out, I'm not going to proofread or edit, so forgive me in advance for mistakes. 

At the time of writing this post I'm two days, well, technically less than 48 hours, away from taking my PhD comprehensive exam, aka the comp exam. I've been studying for months for this. I have read approximately 60 sources, most of that books, but there have been some articles and individual book chapters. But still, it's a massive amount of reading. And this isn't easy reading, like fun novels. This is difficult and dense theory and academic scholarship. Some of it more related to my research (and therefore a bit easier for me to read) but my project isn't a simple research project, I'm bringing together three different strands of theory/scholarship to make my arguments, so it's a lot to not only read but also to synthesize together. For those who don't know, my dissertation will focus on fashion icons and public memory. So it's a fun and interesting subject, but I'm bringing together fashion theory, material culture studies, and memory studies, which are all fairly deep and complex subject areas. And merging them together is even more of a challenge. At this point my brain is ready to explode!

I technically started working on this phase of my degree two years ago. That was when I started my reading journal (the pink book in the center of the above picture). I bought that journal, and a matching pen, in the gift section of Boswell's in Oxford, England. And then I started reading and filling it in throughout that summer, typically doing my reading either in the Radcliffe Camera (yay for being able to get a summer reader card for the Bodleian!) or the Caffe Nero on High Street (and drinking an amazing latte made by either Magda or Fabio). Oh the memories! 

There were a bunch of stops and starts. Times when I'd do a lot of reading in a month and then times when I'd do no reading for weeks on end. Doing a PhD pulls you in a million directions on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis. But slowly and surely that journal got filled up. My exam is scheduled for Tuesday, and I officially finished all the reading on my last this past Wednesday. Since then I've been prepping and reviewing. I've read through my journal and highlighted important words and ideas (see picture below), I've created mind maps and other visual tools, and today and tomorrow I'll do some more reviewing but the nerves are starting to settle in. Hard.

Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
Most of last week I wasn't nervous. Which felt really weird. I'm not used to feeling confident, especially in my academic abilities. I struggle with the classic grad school student problem...Imposter Syndrome. So to be less than a week away from my exam and not feel nervous was just weird. And I guess it was just a calm before the storm, but now I'm feeling pretty nervous. Like, on edge nervous. Panic attacks at 1am because I can't sleep and everyone says getting enough sleep and rest before the exam is important so why am I still awake I need to sleep I really need to so just go to sleep Andrea damn it just go to sleep oh shit I'm crying now oh shit now I can't breathe......ugh. 

But that's kind of the nervous response I was waiting for, so I guess I'm on track? Sigh.

At least I'm at the point where I can recognize the nervousness and anxiety for what it is, just nerves about the exam and I just try to breathe and ride out the panic attack. I mean, there's not much I can do that I'm not doing already. Every time I sit down to review I get 30 minutes into a review session and start to feel like, "I know this, I don't know how to review stuff I know, this feels redundant." It's not a "normal" situation or exam. So you don't really study for it the way you would for other exams. I've seen sample questions, basically an exam that was given to another student, so I know the type and scope of the questions I'll be given, and while I couldn't begin to answer those sample questions (because they're on a different research subject) if they were geared towards my research I'm pretty sure I could answer them, easily even. At the end of the day, I can review and speculate all I want, but I won't fully know what I'm dealing with until I get into that room and see the questions.

I've met with my advisor and we had a great chat. We talked about the exam itself and how to spend those 4 hours (1 hour outlining/planning, 2 hours writing, 1 hour editing). She gave me lots of tips, but what's funny was her biggest advice had nothing to do with reviewing or studying. It was stuff like getting enough sleep and bringing water, coffee, and any snacks or things that will help me get through the 4 hours. Which is probably pretty telling. I need to chill out lol.

So that's been a huge part of my strategy. I've been reviewing, sure, but I'm not spending hours on it each day. More like 1-2 hours tops. I've been doing my teaching work, filming and editing my YouTube videos, reading a novel, and binge watching Scott & Bailey on Hulu (British crime/detective shows are great distractions). Tomorrow, the day before the exam I have a physical therapy session in the morning and then I'm going to the mall to do a tiny bit of shopping and see a movie (hopefully Beauty and the Beast). Then get some takeaway for dinner and go to sleep early. Thankfully I schedule my exam for 12-4pm, so I don't have to get to campus early. I knew a 9am exam time would be disastrous for me, so I intentionally scheduled it for later. My brain works best around the middle of the day.

This post is really just a ramble, I have no advice for other in this situation because I'm still in it myself. I will do another post and probably a video on my YouTube channel about my study process and tips that worked for me. But right now I'm still in process and freaking out a little. Or a lot. I know it will be alright, but I can't help the nerves. It's such a weird feeling. Like, really, really weird lol. If you've made it down this far, thanks for listening to me vent. I appreciate it.

I still have about 36 hours to work on "not stressing" so if you have any tips or strategies for dealing with anxiety or being nervous about a big event, do be a friend and tell me in the comments? 

💗 Andrea xx

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