I spent two years taking courses in higher education history, theory, law, statistics and other much-needed topics. It only seems right that I should have been prepared for one of three biggest exams/test/goals of my program? Right. I received great grades in my class and there is no way that you could come for me or my topic (Thriving Women at HBCUs). Let’s just be honest. I have been in love with HBCUs since a Black College Tour in the 4th grade. So again, I have the grades, passion and the topic solidified but preliminary comprehensive exams (prelims) made me feel worse than the first time I watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the age of 8. This highly confident woman was nervous about taking prelims and it was a feeling I could not shake. I found myself having panic attacks, literally running from my books (another story for another time). I have prepared myself for prelims since the beginning of my program. I had a system! Documents and articles saved on dropbox, purchased nearly every book, noted “things to know" and finessed One Note. My notes had notes. I was prepared in theory but still could not figure out why I was nervous about prelims? Let me just share with you more about my freakout moments and how I overcame them.
I have to give myself pep talks every time I write a paper or anything because I had a professor during my undergrad studies accuse me of plagiarism. She told me that my paper was too good to have been written by me. No matter how many times I tell myself, “Shetina, there is not a writer out here messing with you”- Choi Portis. Unfortunately, I still remember that daunting discussion with that professor in Porter Education building and crying on the bench. Imposter Syndrome is hard to overcome and I have realized that it is a process. What I have done is attacked it head-on. Here are a few tips to consider when dealing with imposter syndrome: write positive/motivational quotes on your wall, have your squad (people who keep you lifted) send you positive messages, or send yourself inspiring messages through your calendaring system. Whatever it is, remember that you are in your program for a reason and you were built for this very moment. My village, family, #SisterPhD, Sorors, The Merce, PAN Family, Fab 5, and friends told me that I would pass prelims and their support pushed me to silence the imposter syndrome!
If you pay attention to nothing that I write please hear this, listen to your professors during classes and take notes. Notes are helpful! Whether you have a take-home or in class prelim you need to know course content to complete prelims. Figure out what notetaking process works for you. I am a writer and love paper so I used multiple notebooks that were labeled for each class. I could go to each class and get the information at any given moment. Onenote was crucial to my system because you can set up individual notebooks and add more pages to a tab. It was helpful for me to be able to go to a particular class to find the information that I needed. I also printed out articles. I know, I know I was not intitially sustainable, but looking at articles on the computer hurts my vision. Trust that I recycled articles I didn’t need. It was helpful that I wrote on my printed articles and highlighted for dear life things that my professors discussed multiple times. These are a few things that worked for me but ask questions about your prelim process and develop a system that will be beneficial for you so that you won’t be frustrated right before the prelims process.
When I say I have the best support system on this earth, I truly do. In my mind, I was going to eat my flaming hot lays (don’t judge me they have gotten me through my program), redbull, sandwiches and water. My friends said no ma’am, and delivered Chipotle, and homemade meals to push me to the finish line. Food and nutrition are very important for you to be alert during the prelims process. I am grateful for every meal, text message, facetime of encouragement and sign of survival. To some this seems very small but to someone who has been writing for hours and barely moves unless it is going to the restroom, simply means the world. My support systems’ acts of kindness helped me focus on writing my best work. If you do not have a support system let me know. I specialize in motivation #TheVillage
Have a Plan or Plan to Fail
Everything that I shared with you was shared with me. I listened to previous cohort members and I developed a process for myself. Figure out how to attack your comprehensive exam process and make sure you give it your all. A few things to plan for:
- Take Home Process: Where will you to take your prelims? Location is key. Consider reserving space in the library, conference rooms, or checking into a hotel. If you can have a space with a dry erase board you might be able to write your thoughts out on the board to help you be organized.
- In Class Process: How are you practicing self-care each day? Make sure you have planned out meals. You have to eat.
- Don’t forget to sleep. It is still important to help you be successful. Your mind needs to refuel.
- Take Home Process: How will you transport your course materials?
- Time matters. If your program requires that you have your exam in at a specific time make that deadline.
There is no one approach to comprehensive exams/prelims just know what works for you. It’s also important to know that if you don’t pass and have to do a re-write, do it! To some re-writes are a sign of failure and for some programs that might be the case but I like to think that it is another opportunity to finish. So that second time give it all that you have and leave nothing on the table, on the paper or in the book. You’re in your program for reason and finish strong!!!
If a little ambitious girl from Detroit (West Chicago & Prairie), who lost her mother in the middle of her undergraduate senior year, and has struck out more than she has gotten on base can become a Doctoral Candidate there is hope for everyone!
Shetina M. Jones
A Doctoral Candidate cheering for other doctoral students