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Any advice for studying for QUALS??

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I am trying so hard to stay calm and not freak out. I am 4 weeks away.

I know I can't know everything. I know it's an "academic spanking."

I just want to do really well - I want to impress my committee. I have had problems with my advisor and sometimes I feel like she doesn't think I have what it takes. I want to prove her wrong in my quals.

I have read the materials given to me by my committee members.

My major advisor didn't give me any specific materials and told me she will be asking me about "the big picture" relating to my dissertation.

She said it's not about memorization or "name-dropping," but I still feel like I need to know specific authors. How do I decide who to be familiar with??

If you are ABD, what advice can you give me about quals? What should I study? Aaagh, I'm not ready, aaaaaahhhhgggghghh!!!!

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I did not do quals (instead, we defend two major papers) but for what it's worth, I think that the most important thing in a situation where you're asked to defend your dissertation is to be able to explain the questions that you ask and why they are important. Have a one-sentence summary of your research interests. Expand that into the questions you are asking in your dissertation, and how they are related to your main interest. From there, you should be able to explain what your predictions are (what you expect to find, what possible outcomes you foresee, etc.) and what methodologies you'll use to go about discovering the answers. At this point, you should decide what previous work you should demonstrate that you are familiar with. You should be able to describe major findings and their discoverers. There are, of course, always going to be too many people to remember and cite; but if you had to cite one person per discovery, or if you had to list the main people who work in your field, who would they be? If you submit a paper to a journal, who would be likely reviewers? Those are the people to know and cite. Also good to know: people from "the other side of the aisle", if that exists in your field. It certainly does in mine, and i try to remind myself that I should know that kind of work too, even if I don't agree with the approach, and be able to explain what is going on there and defend my views to those people.

Good luck!

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It's hard to give advice about specific people you should read without knowing your area. Send me a PM and I'll see what I can do to help.

The advice given to me for my comps was to make sure that I'm not only explaining what other people think or the major trends in the field but also what my take on those debates is and which aspects of those debates my research will address. But yea, it is a bit of academic hazing and it can be difficult when you're used to being able to easily search keywords or tags for that reference but can't recall it off the top of your head.

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Well, just do your best. You are only a second year grad student, so you can't possibly know everything... But not like, saying "I don't know" to everything.

I was nervous as hell when I did mine. Couldn't sleep at all the night before, and it wasn't a good idea...

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Everyone freaks out about quals. It shouldn't be an "academic spanking," though. I thought quals were just a hoop to jump through when I was pre-quals, but post-quals, I realize how very useful and purposeful they are. I realized how much I know, but more importantly, it forced me to organize and synthesize all of that information and explain it concretely without using materials right at the ready. And my orals taught me to do all of that in verbal format with others in my field. It teaches you how to have a scholarly conversation with colleagues, which is part of academia. So think of it as a learning experience. I am much better at recalling information and organizing it now to make a cogent argument.

Don't worry about "impressing" your committee per se. Don't worry about proving your advisor wrong, not in the traditional sense. Your main goal should be learning the material you're intended to learn and demonstrating that you know that material and can articulate it in a scholarly way at a high level.

Quals are different everywhere, but in my general experience, it was not about name dropping. You should know big authors in your field and be able to remember who promulgated big theories with a big impact on the way your field works, but generally speaking, you don't need to know who did every little study that supports that theory. You need to be able to talk about how those studies support the major theory, though. It's all big picture. Details are only about supporting that big picture. I would offer examples from my field but they may be meaningless to you.

It's also okay to say "I don't know," but to offer your educated analysis. One of my examiners asked me what my entire field meant. WTF? I paused to think for a while and offered an answer that I admitted was just my opinion.

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  • 3 weeks later...

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