why exams suck

25Feb07

I know generals/comps/prelims/qualifying exams suck for everyone. They are a necessary hoop to jump through and they are supposed to finally get you really familiar with your field. So I’m not trying to say that mine are worse than anybody else’s. But this is why I’m stressed. I do imperial history, which means, at least for me, that I study the history of a European country as well a specific region. My advisor is an eminent historian of the European country and she has begun publishing and teaching imperial stuff. However, she is not a specialist in my region. When I was trying to decide whether I should come to MRU, there was one tenured professor who worked on that region and had been at the university for years. A senior-level scholar who had also begun working on my region after a few decades studying a related area had just been hired. Additionally, the department had offered jobs to two assistant professors who studied the region as well. In comparison to the other institutions I was looking at, MRU was the best on that level (and for other reasons). So when I decided and when I came, I had no idea that it would actually be difficult trying to get prepared for generals.

My advisor was on leave my first year here and, since she is the only person in the department who works on that country during my time period, I did not get to take relevant classes on the European country until this past fall, my second year. The long-time tenured faculty member got ill over the summer before my first year and has been on leave ever since (luckily, I have heard that this professor is now well). The recent senior scholar that had been hired taught a course on his related longstanding interest that I didn’t take because there were other classes that were more related to my goals. But the senior scholar soon decided to leave MRU and, although we tried to meet to discuss the all-important region, it never happened. And as for those tenure-track hires?? Neither of them came. So I am doing my major field of “European country’s empire and the specific region” and my minor field “European country’s history” with no real preparation.

And the third field? I had planned to do it with a professor who taught a course I took. It was a thematic field about a methodology that I intend to use for my dissertation and I have taken two courses on this material. however, the professor went on leave unexpectedly and even though I probably could have begged him to do it, I decided to make other plans. So my third field is another thematic one in a region that I studied a lot at MFRU but haven’t done any graduate work on.

So what does this longwinded explanation mean? It means that I am doing three fields in material that I haven’t really ever studied (what I studied in college wasn’t exactly preparation; that’s another story). I have about ten weeks left to get through all this material. I am also taking two classes when the program suggests that you either take one course or no course. Anyway, I’m not really complaining about my program; it’s great and it’s not really the department’s fault that things turned out this way. But I am freaking out!!

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