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serenade

convincing committee to let me retake comps

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Hi everyone, 

I know I'm not the first to post about getting kicked out of grad school. I've read some of those threads. But since my situation was a bit different than the ones I found, I decided to start my own. But apologies if this is repetitive from older "getting kicked out" posts. 

Comps in my program are based on three written exams (three different examiners) and one oral one (all three examiners together). After taking the written ones, my three committee members advanced me to the oral stage. All three examiners failed me at the oral though (I got the sense they were evaluating me holistically and wanted to present a unified decision rather than "she passed my field"/"she didn't pass mine" etc). 

Going into the exams, I was under the impression that I had two chances. So I did my best on the first round (studying 18 hours a day leading up to exams), but in the back of my mind I always thought that if for some reason I did poorly, I could always use it as a learning experience to retake them in three months. I left the exam room that day after they told me the results bummed out, but under the impression that I would just work harder and learn how to improve to pass them the next time. 

When I met with my advisor two days later, however, I learned that we were not all on the same page. He told me the committee thinks I should leave the program. I asked him if retaking was a possibility and after talking through it a bit, he agreed, contingent upon the two other members saying yes. I spoke to one the next day who also agreed to let me retake. My advisor then sent me an email saying the committee decided that I need to talk to the third member, after which they will re-confer and my advisor will tell me a decision on whether I can retake them. So two out of three have said yes, but I also know that this third member can be pretty harsh and unforgiving. So I'm preparing myself for the worst. 

When I talked with both my advisor and second member, they each told me how my answers fell short and what was missing (in short, I was providing lots of information with little synthesis/analysis etc). When we had those conversations, it felt like a light bulb went off for me and I finally understood what I was doing wrong. And I also realized that it's something that I think I can improve in 3 months. With one of the examiners, we even hammered out a general approach to getting back on track. So my plan when talking to member # 3 is to tell him that I think I've identified my weaknesses, understand how to improve, and tell him that I'd like to talk about ways to make the most of the next three months of studying. I finally feel that I understand the expectations for the first time. Also, #3 was abroad all last year so we didn't have much contact, only two meetings of which were in person (one of which the week before exams days after he returned from abroad). #2 was also not on campus and had a personal health problem in his family, so contact was sparse there too. So I'm hoping to say that I'd like to try exams again now that #2's life is more stable and I can contact him more often, and #3 is back on campus. 

So anyway, a couple of more specific points

1) Any advice on what else to say to #3 to convince him that giving me a second chance isn't a waste of time? 

2) Is it worth telling my advisor that although I did my best on exams the first time, I wasn't aware of the stakes and this whole issue of being kicked out has taken me by complete surprise? 

3) I know it is a risk for any dept to re-admit a student once they've been kicked out and shown that they weren't able to handle the program. But does this ever happen? I've heard of people transferring to other programs. But if a student takes time off, shows that they've improved in the areas they were lacking, is it possible to convince an admissions committee in the same dept from which you were kicked out that you're worth the risk? 

I have no clue what I would do with the rest of my life if I'm kicked out, particularly so suddenly with little warning. I'm still in shock that all of this is happening. It's my worst nightmare coming to life. 
 

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I wish you the best of luck! I think you have prepared well for your conversation with #3 through what you've described here and what you've discussed with #1 and #2. I think taking responsibility for what happened with #3, not making excuses, and demonstrating that you have a plan to get back on track will be the most helpful. Sorry I don't have more advice than that!

For your question #2, I would say you should not bring this up to your advisor until everything is over. If you retake and pass, maybe this is a good discussion to have after you've graduated (i.e. general feedback that perhaps the dept should make it clearer that a retake is not a sure thing). If you don't get to retake or if you fail the retake, it could be a helpful thing to say to your advisor if you are able to find a way to do so gracefully. Maybe the faculty really didn't know that students thought they always get more than one chance.

For question #3, I have never seen this. If the school thinks the student needs some time away to regroup and would be able to come back successfully, they will often suggest a leave of absence or something similar. Or, you can "finish" the program with a Masters and then apply to a PhD program in the future. But I don't think I have ever heard of a graduate student failing out of a program and being allowed to apply for the same program again in the future.

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2 hours ago, serenade said:


So anyway, a couple of more specific points

1) Any advice on what else to say to #3 to convince him that giving me a second chance isn't a waste of time? 

2) Is it worth telling my advisor that although I did my best on exams the first time, I wasn't aware of the stakes and this whole issue of being kicked out has taken me by complete surprise? 

3) I know it is a risk for any dept to re-admit a student once they've been kicked out and shown that they weren't able to handle the program. But does this ever happen? I've heard of people transferring to other programs. But if a student takes time off, shows that they've improved in the areas they were lacking, is it possible to convince an admissions committee in the same dept from which you were kicked out that you're worth the risk? 

I have no clue what I would do with the rest of my life if I'm kicked out, particularly so suddenly with little warning. I'm still in shock that all of this is happening. It's my worst nightmare coming to life. 
 

In your conversation with Professor Three, I recommend that you do the following.

  • Take personal responsibility for not knowing what was expected of you. I am suggesting that you say something that includes the words "I failed to understand..." in a way that indicates you've reflected long and hard about the role you played in things going sideways. I am not suggesting that you grovel.
    • I recommend that you be ready to answer the question "Why didn't you know that you were expected to provide synthesis and analysis?"
  • Make an affirmative argument why you should be allowed to take your exams again.
    • You are a historian who has contributions to make to the profession.
    • You have been trained to prepare for and to pass qualifying exams--and you will prove it when given the opportunity to do so.
  • Treat Professor Three's approval independently from the other two committee members. (Do not use the approval of One and Two as a reason.)
  • Briefly outline your plan for preparing for taking your quals (have additional detail ready upon request, but don't over do it).
  • Be ready for Professor Three to ask you a quals-type question during the conversation.
    • Prepare for this possibility by re-reading your written responses and by thinking through the questions that gave you the greatest difficulty during the oral exam.
  • When your conversation with Professor Three ends, look him right in the eye and thank him for his time. 
  • When you get the okay to retake your quals, make sure you know exactly what you need to do to dot the i's and cross the t's--paperwork, scheduling, and everything else that comes to mind.
    • You don't need to do it all right after you get the okay, but you should do it soon.

If possible, see if you can get one or two people to sandbox the conversation with Three. Treat the exercise like the real thing.

@serenade, do all you can to put all of your other concerns out of your mind until you have this conversation with Professor Three. Visualize yourself having a positive experience with him. You will be poised, you will be knowledgeable, you will be professional. You are going to show Three that you just had an off moment.  Imagine the conversation going well and getting the answer you want. 

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9 hours ago, Sigaba said:

Be ready for Professor Three to ask you a quals-type question during the conversation.

This is a great point. Maybe it won't happen but it would really suck if you were caught off guard by this!

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1 hour ago, TakeruK said:

This is a great point. Maybe it won't happen but it would really suck if you were caught off guard by this!

The Nescafe (don't judge me) just kicked in so I will take the hypothetical a step or two further.

Expect questions from Professor Three along the lines of "Which questions do you wish you'd answered differently? (With the why and how implied.)

@serenade If you encounter this type of question, please avoid saying "I'd do everything differently." Instead indicate that you'd build upon what you wrote by adding X, Y, and Z. Three may counter with a follow up "Whatabout?" question. If he does, understand that you're doing well--quals are partly about finding the limits of your knowledge and seeing how well you can step out your comfort zone.

I think you're going to do well in this conversation.

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Thanks, everyone. The meeting with #3 went well. No comps-type questions asked. We just talked about what went wrong and what he was looking for instead. He said yes to letting me retake them though he also told me that on a scale of 1 to 10, he predicts my likelihood of passing to be between a 3 and a 4 (yikes). I got an email from my advisor the following day saying that the committee has approved my request to retake exams. Anyway, a few questions I'd like input on: 

1) Each of my three comm members passed me on my written exams but failed me on the oral. So when talking to my department head, he said he's not sure if I will be retaking both written and oral components or just the oral. On the one hand, I would like the chance to redo written exams (based on new questions) in order to clear up any doubt in my committee members' minds that I have gained skills in organization/analysis/synthesis. On the other hand, however, my dept head pointed out that it would be bad if, upon taking them a second time, I failed the written exams and never got to the orals. My dept head advised me to take the "pass" I already have on the written exams and go forward with just the oral since the committee can't renege the pass they already gave me and that was officially recorded. He said he's not even sure if the Grad School will let me retake a portion of the exam that I already passed so it may be a moot point. But he also said if I really wanted to retake writtens, he could ask on my behalf. Does anyone have any thoughts on which might be better - the chance to show you've gained skills by doing new written exams or conversely, not risking the chance of not passing again and proceeding with just an oral exam? 

2) If I take the exams again this semester (late November/December) and fail again, my stipend ends in December, meaning I will have no income in January. I don't know whether I should spend the rest of the semester looking for jobs (in case things don't work out) on top of studying for comps. Each minute spent on job searches lessens the amount of time studying for exams so part of me thinks it's best to devote all of my time to studying and worry about looking for a job when the time comes (between my parents and savings, I could probably get by temporarily while I searched). But I also wonder if it would be foolish to not look for jobs since passing exams is not certain. The other option my dept head tentatively suggested was to push the retake to January, at which point if I failed, my stipend would last until May, though he isn't certain on the time frame for retaking exams and he wondered if the Grad School might see this as an attempt to game the system to keep getting a stipend (which, admittedly, it is!). Any thoughts on whether to devote 100% to studying or to look for jobs on top of studying? 

3) Finally, I'm unclear on how much contact with committee members is appropriate before I retake them. Originally, my advisor told me that while he couldn't meet with me every week (which I never asked for), we could meet "a few" times before I retake exams to go over the material. Members #2 and #3 said we could meet once before I retook them. Then in the email that I got from my advisor saying that the committee is letting me retake exams, he said that I would not have the opportunity to meet with any of my committee members (including himself) before the retake. This struck me as odd both because each of them had agreed to meet at least once if not "a few" times and also because it seems to not make sense to refuse a student help when they most need it (i.e. after having failed exams and trying again). I understand that grad school in general, and exams more specifically are not meant to be "hand holding" or "spoon feeding" but does it strike anyone else odd to refuse to meet with a student at all in at least three months time? Or is this normal? 

 

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1 hour ago, serenade said:

Thanks, everyone. The meeting with #3 went well. No comps-type questions asked. We just talked about what went wrong and what he was looking for instead. He said yes to letting me retake them though he also told me that on a scale of 1 to 10, he predicts my likelihood of passing to be between a 3 and a 4 (yikes). I got an email from my advisor the following day saying that the committee has approved my request to retake exams. Anyway, a few questions I'd like input on: 

1) Does anyone have any thoughts on which might be better - the chance to show you've gained skills by doing new written exams or conversely, not risking the chance of not passing again and proceeding with just an oral exam? 

2)  Any thoughts on whether to devote 100% to studying or to look for jobs on top of studying? 

3) I understand that grad school in general, and exams more specifically are not meant to be "hand holding" or "spoon feeding" but does it strike anyone else odd to refuse to meet with a student at all in at least three months time? Or is this normal? 

 

@serenade

Congratulations on earning an opportunity to pass your qualifying exams! You have shown a tremendous amount of courage by having these conversations with your professors.

As for your questions.

  1. Only retake those parts of the exam that you absolutely have to and not one question more. Getting ready for your oral exam is plenty to do.
  2. I don't know that anyone should study 100% of the time for anything under any circumstances -- that level is not sustainable. I recommend breaking up your studying into realistic chunks of time and maybe doing some job hunting.
    • Think carefully about pushing the exam to January. Do you want to go through the holiday season in this state of liminality? 
  3. Don't worry about what your committee members are not doing, focus on what they ARE doing. They are going to let you take all or part of the exam over. Yes, meeting with them before you retake the exam would be preferable, but as that's not an option, it's time to come up with a plan B. May I recommend:
    • Review all of their written and verbal feedback on your qualifying exams as well for other papers and tests they've evaluated.
    • Write down the questions you were asked during your initial oral exam with notes on how you answered and how, in retrospect, you would have liked to have answered.
    • Track down ABDs who have had any of your committee members on their committees and pick their brains.
    • Develop a list of potential questions that they may ask you on the oral exams. 
    • Figure out if there are other professors who can/may/want to talk to you about preparing for your oral exam.
    • Start a thread in the history forum of this BB. In the OP, provide a link to this thread. Perhaps stalwarts including @kotov @maelia8 @telkanuru and @TMP will provide support on line or off line. 
    • Find three (or more) people with whom you can sand box the oral exam -- as in do a couple of test runs.

A comment. Your committee members' decision not to talk to you about the exam may be part of the ritual of qualifying exams. IME, professors gave varying levels of grief to graduate students who were taking quals. What ever their motivation, I recommend taking it in stride and driving on.

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I definitely agree with @Sigaba . Don't retake more of the exam than you need to. Your written scores were sufficient so move on to showing you have improved in these areas in your orals. You don't need to study 100% of the time. Give your brain some breaks so you don't burn out. Also, you definitely should practice the orals multiple times before your retake. If your written answers were good but your orals weren't, maybe there is some way you are presenting the information verbally that is hurting you? In any case, it's good to practice.

 

As for the refusal to see you, it could be a specific prof's whim, a condition of you being allowed to retake, or something else. You don't know so try not to take it personally. 

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Congrats on making it to this stage! I agree with @Sigaba. I would add:

1. Do not retake the written exam when there is no reason to do so. (Yeah this is not anything new to what was said above but I think it's worth repeating).

2. Normally, I would say this is something worth discussing with your advisor. From your most recent post, it sounds like your main advocate is in fact your department head and not your advisor. Perhaps this is something that is different in different fields, or maybe this is something different about your situation. I normally would advise students to discuss the possibility of not passing with their advisor. Usually, the advisor is 100% on their side (or no retake would even be allowed) and in almost all cases, the advisor will hire the student as an assistant for a few months to help transition them out.

If something like this is not possible, for whatever reason, then perhaps talking to the dept head could be a good idea, especially given that they seem to be your advocate. Maybe the dept head can have the dept hire you as a TA so that you have some minimal income while you figure out the next steps. 

If nothing like this is possible, I would say although nothing is guaranteed, I'd advise you to "play to your outs" so to speak. It sounds like your main goal is to stay in this program and finish so I think it makes the most sense to focus on that goal. Applying for jobs takes a lot of time and energy and it's better to succeed at one task than be mediocre at two tasks. You said that you have the means to support yourself for a little while so use that if you need to. 

That said, I think your dept head has a good point to suggest a January exam date. If you decide that you want to try this route, speak to the dept head again (and check the Grad School policies on exam timings). If the dept head and the policy handbook confirms that you can reschedule to January, then perhaps that is the best route. I would only do this if your committee members have not already been notified of an exam date and if you can ask the dept head to take the lead in this rescheduling (i.e. the decision on the date would be coming from the dept head instead of you). I feel like sure, the Grad School might think you are gaming the system, but this type of scheduling is fairly common in my experience (e.g. some students will prefer to defend in January 2018 instead December 2017 so that their dissertation date is defended in 2018, making them eligible for fellowships that require a PhD within X years last longer instead of being cut short one year.....and alternatively, other students will defend December 2017 instead of January 2018 because they have time limits where they needed to finish in X years!). Since the dept head suggested this first, if they are willing to follow through on it, I'd consider it. Sigaba's point of whether or not you want this looming over you during the holidays is a good one though. Personally, I don't celebrate and I don't travel home during this time (I go in November or January instead, where things are less crowded and flights cheaper) so the holidays has generally been a time for work for me.

3. Don't take it personally that the committee members decided to not meet with you prior to the exam. This might be some policy or agreement they came to while debating whether you should retake. You can also flip it and think about it from another perspective: this way, you will (and the committee will) know that you performed well on your retake exam because you improved as a scholar, not because you got coaching from one of the members. For my quals, we all had two advisors on the committee. There were no rules about communicating with committee members, but one of my advisors said they would not want to discuss the quals exam at all prior to the exam while the other reviewed my presentation with me, asked me some sample questions that they thought I would get etc. This was the case for all the other students with these two advisors---it's not you.

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10 minutes ago, GreenEyedTrombonist said:

Also, you definitely should practice the orals multiple times before your retake.

Based upon the OP's comments in this thread and other posts, I very strongly recommend against this recommendation.  The oral exam in history is like baking a cake in a volcano. Jumping into a pool of lava does not increase one's resistance to heat.

One or two tumbles in the sand box will do.

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@Sigaba In this case, I was talking 3 or more times (I should have been more specific), but, as per my comment on not studying 24/7, I agree you can overdo it. Mostly, I think if the OP thinks the content of the orals was the problem, studying and a few practice sessions will be good enough. However, if OP thinks the delivery played a part, it might be necessary to practice more than a few times.

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20 hours ago, serenade said:

3) Finally, I'm unclear on how much contact with committee members is appropriate before I retake them. 
 

The only thing I'd like to add beyond what has been said (excellently) above is with Point 3. 

It could have been that your advisor forgot he promised you meetings, or that they realised upon discussion that it'd be in violation of departmental policy/spirit-of-policy to meet with you. Or they have a busy semester with teaching/grant deadlines/conference travel so think it's unlikely they could fit in time anyway. I wouldn't think of it as "a refusal to meet with you", since that implies more negativity than what I suspect was intended. It is what it is. 

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Wow... this is what happens when flying across the pond to present a conference paper.... I could have walked you through the entire process but @Sigaba offered on-point advice that I likely would have given.  I barely passed my writtens and failed my oral exams.  My committee had hoped that I would redeem myself during the orals.  My problem was the same as yours-- too much information and not enough synthesis.  I suspect that 3 of 4 were willing to let me retake while the #4 had to be convinced.  My adviser admitted that my dissertation prospectus (included in the exam portfolio) was the thing that saved me from getting kicked out.  She also mentioned that the committee was concerned whether or not I was a good fit for the PhD program given (at the time) my hyper-specialized focus on details of history and not broad knowledge to teach an undergrad survey as well.  That really woke me up.

If you net out any reason why the committee really wants to kick you out, show them (not tell) why you are a good fit to continue onto the dissertation. I am surprised that your adviser is willing to go with it (although there might be politics involved...) as s/he is supposed to be your advocate unless s/he truly thinks very low of you.  Which sounds like isn't the case.

To your latest round of questions:
1) Do NOT re-take the writtens.  However, my committee did recommend that revise the written exams during the interim; they wanted to see that I could make corrections and incorporate arguments and methods in the answers.  I learned a tremendous while doing this so it may be worthwhile to do the revisions yourself and let the committee know that you are working on that.  If they seemed positive, offer to share the revisions before the orals.

2) Absolutely not...... this is one of those things that you might spill over beer/wine later on.... When my adviser said that i was supposed to incorporate historiography, I looked at her blankly and said, "Oh, I didn't know that... the questions/directions weren't that clear enough...." She only gave me this look: -_-

3) Interesting that suddenly all of them have backed off.  I'm now wondering what kind power #3 is holding over the other two.  It is pretty incredible to watch your adviser try to fight for you but struggles to stand up to colleagues.  All of my committee members were willing to meet with me only twice during the 5 month (I initially took my exam at the end of spring semester and then again towards the end of fall semester).  If you can really push your exam to January (if there are no rules about time limits) or even February, it'll give  you time to meet with your committee at least once (I hope) while spreading out your studying and job-hunting.

I also might suggest meeting with a counselor if you aren't already.  While this period is continuation of heavy stress, it also brings opportunities for self-reflection.   Talking with someone outside of your program and academics will help a lot.

 

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1 hour ago, TMP said:

I also might suggest meeting with a counselor if you aren't already.  While this period is continuation of heavy stress, it also brings opportunities for self-reflection.   Talking with someone outside of your program and academics will help a lot.

If you pursue this option, I do recommend that you talk to a trained professional who holds a PsyD or Ph.D. Such a professional will have gone through experiences similar to yours and may therefore be able to provide a higher level of empathy. (My committee included a professor with Ph.Ds in history and clinical psychoanalysis, and a professor who held a Ph.D. in psychology. Both provided a steadying hand in the most subtle of ways.)

 

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Thanks, guys! You're all so helpful. 

After having a meeting with my advisor today, I figured a few things out: 

It looks unlikely that I'll be allowed to retake my written exams anyway, so the focus is just on the oral now. My advisor pointed out that this is somewhat to my disadvantage because I won't have any heads up as to what they could ask (follow up on written answers; asking the other questions that I didn't choose to answer in the written exams etc). But in other ways, it will be nice to not have to worry about written exams. TMP, I like your idea about sharing revisions with the committee to show them that you've made improvement, albeit it in a more informal way. 

My advisor was supportive of the January exam date. I agree, Sigaba, it will be miserable to have it hanging over my head over Christmas break, but given the (temporary) financial stability it would provide if I fail the retake, I think it will be worth it in the long run. If I failed, I could then spend January - May looking for jobs while still having an income. The Grad School only stipulates that the retake must occur by the end of the semester following the one in which the student fails the first time, so this looks doable per regulations. 

As to meeting with my committee, I apparently woefully misunderstood my advisor's email. He explained to me that he meant none of my committee was available for what he calls "extra" meetings, but he said that as far as he's concerned, he and I could meet just as frequently as we always did. He said he envisioned us meeting every 2-3 weeks (which is somewhat more frequent than our norm!) So basically, he was trying to say that he couldn't meet with me more than normal (why he didn't just say that, I have no idea). And he said I could meet with my other members as much as they were willing, but not to expect "extra" meetings with them either. I'm still not really sure where the fine line is between a "regular" meeting and an "extra" meeting since it's not like we have a schedule of every time we're going to meet in a given semester, but I trust that he will tell me if I'm asking for a quantity of meetings that exceeds what he thinks is appropriate in line with what he said today. (Of course, in his mind, it's my fault for misinterpreting his email - not his for not being more clear -- but alas, that's just part of learning to get along with people, I suppose). 

Regarding seeing a counselor: yes, I actually started going to one on campus in July shortly after I returned from a research trip abroad and it's been SO great. And yes, she holds a PhD so is able to offer a level of empathy about comps (and grad school more generally). When I failed exams, it was nice to already have established a relationship with someone for about six weeks prior who already knew how much stress and work went into my preparing and how much anxiety I was already having about them, rather than beginning the counseling process then and having to get acquainted with someone. I actually scheduled a meeting with my counselor for the afternoon after I took my oral that morning just in case things didn't go well, and it turned out to be much needed!

TMP, wow, this gives me hope to learn that you failed but eventually made it and were able to stay in your program. Same with me from what my advisor told me - my writtens weren't great but he hoped I'd redeem myself during orals. Didn't happen. And yep, synthesis and organization are my major problems, I learned. And my committee has said similar things about their doubts about my ability to teach this material to undergrads. Yes, definitely a wake up call. Interesting to hear that your dissertation proposal was what saved you. I am taking my advisor's grad seminar this semester and he agreed today to let my written paper for that class be a draft of my proposal. So maybe if he's on the fence at my oral retake, a good proposal might tip the balance in my favor? (On the other hand, a bad one could do the opposite, I suppose). TMP, did you find writing and passing the proposal/prospectus as difficult as exams? I keep thinking, "If I can just get through exams, I can do the rest" but maybe the proposal is actually harder? 

Anyway, thanks everyone! 


 

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@serenade  Writing dissertation proposals is different for everyone, unfortunately.  I came in with a MA and that dissertation topic (coming out from my MA thesis) and knew pretty much what I wanted to write.  For me, as a born-researcher, working on my dissertation proposal was far much more fun and easier than prepping for the comps.  I barely stressed out.  I will say that prepping for the comps definitely changed the way I wanted to entered in various conversations.  If this is your first go at writing a proposal and haven't thought much about your dissertation since you started it will be challenging.  My guess is that if you are able to demonstrate in clear ways your work contributes to the extant scholarship, particularly if the sources are relatively new or a different methodology that hadn't really be considered, you will likely be fine.  Having prepped for the comps should have given you a clear sense of what is considered a clear, nuanced approach to the historical problem at hand, not a simplified one as undergraduate papers tend to do.

The information coming out of your adviser's meeting sounds terrific.  Yes, 2-3 times should be just fine.  Remember, none of these professors expected to have to make time for your this semester so you will have to work with what they have on their plate.  My professors certainly didn't and prioritized our meetings only when they knew for sure they had the energy and time for the discussions.  You will soon find the last meeting for each to be like, "why are we here again?  We've talked about everything, as it seems."  The professors will use these meetings to measure your level of improvement, particularly if you are the type who feels more comfortable one-on-one than in a group (as I was).  My adviser also said the same about not using writtens during the next round of oral; you will just have to be ready for whatever.  That said, demonstrate your increased comfort level, ability to teach a survey course, and understanding of history and historiography during your meetings this semester and the committee will likely put more weight on your improvement as much as what actually happens on that day.

As for questions, you might actually want to look back at old AP European history exam questions and see how you can answer them with a mix of historical facts and scholarly arguments.  I remember how embarrassed I was when my adviser, also embarrassed, told me that a number of questions I was asked were based on undergraduate survey course final exams....  #facepalm

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8 hours ago, TMP said:

The professors will use these meetings to measure your level of improvement, particularly if you are the type who feels more comfortable one-on-one than in a group (as I was).  My adviser also said the same about not using writtens during the next round of oral; you will just have to be ready for whatever.  That said, demonstrate your increased comfort level, ability to teach a survey course, and understanding of history and historiography during your meetings this semester and the committee will likely put more weight on your improvement as much as what actually happens on that day.

This comment made me think of something. I wonder how much of the quals process at your department depends on your "performance" at the oral exam stage vs. taking a holistic view of your work throughout the entire grad career thus far. This was something that was very confusing in my own dept as well, until we (the older students) finally convinced the faculty to release more information to the first years about the quals evaluation process (they weren't against releasing it, they just thought everyone already knew). For us, the decision to pass or not pass you is made right after the oral exam stage, however, we learned that the decision is not solely based on the oral exam itself. I think this is good, because some people are better at one-on-one discussions than standing in front of the board talking to a committee than others. Yes, both are important in your academic career, so some minimal level of comfort/confidence in the group setting is necessary. But this means that no one has to feel that everything rides on that 3 hour time slot and nothing you have done leading up to the exam matters.

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Thanks again, guys. TMP, if only I had taken AP Euro! (maybe I wouldn't be in this predicament). I only took APUSH :( But I'm sure I can find old Euro exams and DBQ's - good idea! 

I know that it's done now, but part of me feels somewhat resentful toward my committee for allowing me to get to the oral portion of the exam in the first place. They each passed me on my written exams, but then failed me at the oral. As I think I mentioned somewhere, my advisor told me my written answers for him were weak, but he thought maybe I could make up for them at the oral. After talking to my dept chair, however, the chair said the committee should have failed me at the writtens when they realized my answers were weak, let me retake them, and THEN proceeded to the oral when they knew I was ready (assuming improvement between first and second time). I know it doesn't help anything to dwell on the past and I need to focus my mental energy on studying for the next round. But I kind of feel that my committee set me up for failure. And that feeling of resentment makes it tough to push forward. 

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On 9/13/2017 at 4:24 PM, serenade said:

Ah, yes, I remember an older grad student in my dept giving me this during my first semester (but admittedly, I never made use of it). It is sitting on my desk under a pile of papers. Definitely will pull it for this next go round! Thanks. 

http://home.uchicago.edu/~icon/teach/guideorals.pdf

14 hours ago, serenade said:

But I kind of feel that my committee set me up for failure. And that feeling of resentment makes it tough to push forward. 

The way you feel is the way you feel, however, did your professors tell you not to use the guide you were provided during your first semester?

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