For the past several weeks, I have been a walking ball of stress. For those who don't know--which is probably nobody, considering how much I've been complaining about it--my comprehensive exams (or "comps," as we lovingly call them) start on Monday. Here's what will happen: On Monday, I will be put in a room with a computer for eight hours, during which time I will have to answer two questions for my "Social Movements and Modern American Politics" field. To answer the questions, I will have to draw from about 150 books and articles, the most important and relevant of which I will have to recall the title, author, publication date, and general argument. I will then repeat the process the following Monday and Wednesday (oh yes, I get to think about this over Thanksgiving) for my Modern African American History and LGBTQ Studies fields. Then, the next Monday, I will have an oral exam with all three of my committee members. And then only a dissertation will stand in the way of a Ph.D. in History.
Just typing all of that out made me tired. The reality that I actually have to do this is starting to set in. I guess I've been waiting in vain for an e-mail from my adviser saying, "LOL JK, comps isn't real!" The stress has been slowly building all semester as I plowed through my reading list. Then, it started increasing exponentially over the past few weeks, when comps became less of an abstract idea and more of a reality looming on the horizon. I've gone through cycles of feeling extra confident and knowing that I'm certainly going to fail and have to drop out of grad school. I've also gone through severe bouts of impostor syndrome, in which I'm convinced that I'm not actually cut out for a Ph.D., and that everybody is going to find out what a fraud I am once I fail comps. Never mind that 95 percent of the people who take comps pass them. As the stress continued to build, I was expecting this weekend to be hell on earth as I came down to the wire on studying. I did not RSVP for today's Houston Area Kossacks meet-up because I fully expected myself to be holed up in my apartment doing nothing but reading my notes and crying in the fetal position.
The reality is quite different. The realization that I'm going to be fine hit me suddenly, and a wave of relief washed over me. I've been taking grad courses for over two years now. I have read my entire reading list and taken meticulous notes. I can sit here, right now, and recite the exact books I am going to use, in order, with author and publication dates. I know almost exactly what my questions are going to be, and I know exactly how to answer them. A weekend-long cram session is not only unnecessary--it could probably be harmful. At this point, the only way I am going to fail is if I walk into that room on Monday and do not let my hands touch the keyboard. Once they touch, however, I'm going to pass. With distinction? I'm not sure. But I don't care. Passing is all that matters.
My goal this weekend has changed--from anxiously rifling through my notes to simply maintaining serenity. Nothing I do this weekend is going to change the outcome on Monday, so my focus is on staying well rested and thinking positive thoughts. Serenity now, serenity now, serenity now.
How are you maintaining your serenity on this Saturday?
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