Five days, 47.5 hours and 50 pages later, I emerged from the office after sending off the answers to my comprehensive exams. What did I learn from that experience and what would I suggest?
These are in no particular order...
1) I actually was prepared to answer most of the questions. I guess those past two years and a half of coursework and practica helped after all....
2) Sitting in one place with the only movement being your fingers typing and your eyeballs darting back and forth for 4-5 straight hours at a time causes horrible pain in your back, legs, hips, wrists, arms....well, pretty much your entire body, I guess. It's best to either transfer to a standing position for a few hours at a time, or take frequent breaks to walk around, do some stretching, and basically look away from the computer screen.
3) Google is your friend. It really, really is a repository for anything and everything for which you could possibly need to search. 'Nuff said.
4) Reference management software is also your friend, but only if you treat it nicely and give it some guidance. When I was compiling all of my references, I categorized them into different sections (e.g., measurement, theory, effects, study design). This came in super handy when I was looking for references on a specific topic. You don't necessarily have to put them in separate folders in the program (I use Zotero or EndNote). You can also tag them by putting a keyword in one of the reference fields (I like "Tags" in Zotero or "Notes" in EndNote). Then you can search specifically in that field for that term.
5) I actually feel more prepared to work on my dissertation after answering the questions my committee provided. They weren't questions that were designed to completely stump you and make you feel like and idiot. They were questions that were thoughtful, with no clear answer, for which you could provide evidence and make a solid argument. They were questions that challenged me to read beyond what I'm familiar with and synthesize the material into a cogent answer. They were questions that made me think about potential flaws and threats to validity for my study design and research plan. They were questions that were designed to make me think about what I was proposing to do and how I was proposing to do it. In a nutshell, they were questions that were essential to expanding my knowledge and making me a better researcher.
6) Organization is key. I had 8 questions to answer in 5 days. I don't think I would have been able to do this without a little organization. Prior to the start of the exams, I had taken all of the articles that I thought would be pertinent and separated them out according to categories (similar to what I did with the citations). I had read through each and made a word document of notes in table and narrative format. I highlighted the key points of each article. I took those notes and placed them with each category of articles in little piles all over the room. Okay, so I had a stack of papers covering the floor. But I knew exactly what was in each stack and had summaries of the stacks. So, it was all organized my way. This made searching the papers for information so much easier and didn't take tons of time. I think organization should also extend to the writing portion of the paper. For each question, I wrote a very short outline of the topics that were absolutely essential to cover. This helped me organize my thoughts so I could fill in each outline section with the appropriate material. Again: organization is key....and save soooo much time.
7) You can still go out and do things you like/need to do while doing your comps. Don't be a shut in. As a matter of fact, I think getting outside every now and then can be refreshing and give you a better perspective when you return to sit/stand at your computer. A little hour here and there won't decrease your productivity. Beside, you have to eat sometime, right?? I took some time to go to yoga, do the usual grocery shopping, and clean a little bit around the house. Each time I returned to my computer to write, I felt rejuvenated and more relaxed.
8) It seems simple, but stay hydrated. This will help you take breaks anyways ;)
9) Let other people know what you are doing - It's good to have a support team to cheer you on, and to celebrate with you when you finish
10) Despite my relief at being done with the written portion, I'm not done yet....so this feeling is sort of anticlimactic. I have the oral defense in about 4 weeks. So now I get to sit and stew a little before I go before my committee. Had I thought this out a little better, I think I would have tried to schedule this as close to the two weeks post submission as possible. Oh well....I guess I'll keep busy with other projects, for now....