I’m 3 years into a Sociology PhD program. Most people who are not also pursuing PhD’s tend to ask me about school and when I respond they verbally offer some form of ‘you go girl’ and ultimately still have no idea what I’m talking about.
Which is fine.
I’m always down to educate folks on the process PLUS I will use literally any excuse at this point to talk about my research. I would bet foreign money that I can work my research into damn near any conversation at this point in history.
Non-academic: My family went on vacation this summer to California and drove along the West Coast in our brand spanking new double-wide RV. It was a very rich and meaningful time in our lives and we grew closer spiritually, mentally, and emotionally as a family.
Me: Kewl, kewl, kewl. You know who else has families? Black women. Know what else black women do? Go to church. Speaking of black women in church….[insert rant about my study of black women in the church and feminism]
See? Any conversation. I feel like I talk about it (my research) at least ten times a day.
Sometimes to myself.
Hell, most times to myself.
And my computer.
But whether I’m obsessed with my research is neither here nor there [I am]. The point of this post is to let y’all know what my life as a PhD entails, just in case you’re wondering what I’ve been doing with the last 2, going on 3, years of my life OR if you’re thinking about hopping on that Humanities PhD train yourself.
Major things I need to get done for them folks to slide me that young PhD: Coursework, Master’s Defense, General [or Comprehensive] Exam, Proposal Defense, and Dissertation Defense. So let’s get on with what each of those things are.
Coursework: These are the classes you take for your degree. In my department, you traditionally are completely finished with coursework before you move on to any of the other phases. Generally takes about 2-3 years depending on if you came in with a Masters and on the program itself. This is just like your upper-level undergrad classes but charged up. You have class, you have things to read, and you spend the semester working on a term paper. You make piss poor use of your time and wait ’till a week before class to take it seriously. Somewhere in your mad dash through articles on Academic Search Complete you question why you waited so long. You turn in a decent enough project.
Hit Rewind. Press Play. Do it all over again next semester until….
Master’s Defense: Finally one of those papers sparked something within you and you kept going with it long enough to make a thesis out of it. You build a committee, fill out your paperwork, write the thing, present the thing to your committee, they approve it.
Congrats! You now have a Master’s! [I came into my program with mine so I skipped this part.]
So you now have a research focus, time to study all the books in that area and be tested. It’s time for your…
General Exams: Also known as the pages which line the corridors to the Chamber of Flipping Secrets that lead to the downward spiral of any normalcy or saneness you once had.
Mundane conversations at happy hour over a brew? GONE.
Being able to hear sociopolitical commentary and not think about how it directly relates to the oppression of someone’s rights? In your dreams.
You are now so immersed in the ghost chatter of your research areas that you are in tune with the foundations of your subject. You know exactly what the authors meant when they put the pen to page and you can see exactly why your research is what the field needs. This is the time period which bluntly and honestly tells you whether you are cut out for this. Either you believe in this or you don’t. Either you know why your research matters or you might as well give up. You’ll make it past this, it can’t last forever. You eventually take your exam (the questions which are completely composed by your committee members) and you pass. You chuck all the books you read into the library return slot and shut down Microsoft Word until it’s bright lights no longer make you twitch.
Proposal Defense: It’s now time to convince your committee that they should trust you to write a whole dissertation on your research. I decided on my topic my first semester so most of my papers up to this point were all on the same topic and were some culmination of the literature at that time. During generals, as I took notes on my readings [so many readings] I also wrote on the ways they correlated directly to my topic area. Since I’m already collecting data at the same time it was pretty easy to make connections because I’m building the data set as I read the context behind it. As I’m transcribing interviews from my respondents, I’m reading about the history of magic in Black religion and the impact of women’s work to the cause of gender equality.
You type all the thoughts and the research plan onto paper. You send it to your committee, show them your proposed plan, they give their thoughts, and they send you on your merry way to start or continue your research as planned.
Dissertation: It’s time for you and your research to become one. You go and collect the data. You pick up a hobby. If you’re me, you get comfortable in sweats and t-shirts because ultimate comfort is the mark of a productive researcher.
You research the thing. You write the thing. You realize the thing is crap and you gotta write it all over again. This time like you got some sense.
It’s much better this time. Yous ship it off to your committee. Set a date for defense. You powerpoint it up for them. They ask questions. They tell if you’re going to be a doctor or not [at this point it’s pretty much always yes] and then you’re done!!!!
If you have some sort of funding, you’re most likely obligated to do something in order to earn your income. That thing is sometimes teaching, researching under a professor, or performing a role in another office like the Office of Diversity or the Gender Studies Department. I’m a fellow and my only requirement is I have to teach. I’m teaching a class now, look at me, educating the youth.
And that’s about it! This is only reflective of my experience. Every department, school, and field are different but that’s about the core of most programs. The order might be different but the requirements are still the same.
My best advice about a PhD program is to do it if you want to do it. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing or have some greater goal to work toward, you’re going to be miserable. It’s too much effort to just past the time with.
Go be great,
-Bri sometimes known as the one whose always on Tumblr also known as the black chick in yoga
“Each day, like a bird, perfect thyself first, to have courage & smile my friend! Think & act 10 years ahead! And the man without fault? He’s dead! Do one thing at a time! Work hard! Get done! Then teach friend & enemy ‘How to Work & How to Love’ for God is Love, uniting All-One above in God’s Eternal All-One-God-Faith!”-The Moral ABC, Dr. Bronner
“And now we have these three: faith and hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.”- 1 Corinthians 13:13