Thursday, July 28, 2005

Drout's First Law of Studying for Ph.D. Orals

In this post, Natalia discussed the stress of studying for Ph.D. orals. It is one of those nightmare situations where, no matter how much work you have done, you still can think of much more work you should have done.

Along that path lies insanity and exhaustion.

So I offer for Natalia and others Drout's First Law of Studying for Ph.D. Orals:

If you read a stack of books as high as you are tall, you will pass.

I came up with this law at Loyola Chicago, and, as far as I have been able to tell, there have been no exceptions. My friend Bryon Grigsby (now Dean Grigsby at Centennary College) is well over six feet tall and was not happy about the way Drout's First Law applied to him, but he read his stack, and he passed.

So, cheer up, Natalia. You now have a metric to use for your studying.


Derek the ├ćnglican said... field's a bit different. You need to read the stack of books to pass the *written* exams; no books will ever help for the orals. The key to passing our orals is to handle the intellectual equivalent of being kicked in the head for an hour and a half by an angry rugby team with grace and poise. It's not even if your answers are right or wrong but whether you can sustain yourself in the midst of a full-on academic onslaught. As far as I can can tell it's an enshrined form of academic hazing...

Natalia said...

That sounds like good news, since I'm very short, but somehow I don't particularly think I'll be expected to have read less than my loftier brethren. I wish Drout's First Law applied.

In any case, here they make orals pointedly anticlimactic (although I think the rugby team analogy still applies) to emphasize that the studying that you do isn't really for an exam; it's for forming yourself into some ideal super-scholar.

It's funny, but no matter how much I read, I don't seem to be developing any superhero powers. I kind of feel like I've been scammed.

Michael said...

My point is that if you've done the background work necessary for the exam as a whole (i.e., read the 5+ foot stack), you'll also be ready for orals, and will pass them. The people I knew who failed their orals (and, for some reason, only medievalists ever failed orals at Loyola... maybe something about standards in other fields, I dunno...) hadn't adequately prepared through sheer volume of reading. Being quick on the draw in the rough and tumble of the oral won't save you if you don't know what you're talking about and aren't able to make quick connections between texts because you haven't read the texts.
I'll do another post on "surviving orals" [and another on "incredibly stupid things I did in my Ph.D. defense"] later.
But maybe it's just a psychological thing, but every one of my friend who tried this -- physically stacked up all the books read in preparation -- felt better, came to my St. Patrick's Day party and drank (and one couple whose first date was at the party ended up married), and later passed their exams.

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Dan S said...

I know this is an old post, but I just PASSED MY !@#()*@!(# ORALS! (Field: late medieval and Early Modern literature, the reception of 14th century texts in Early Modern England.)


Hardest question: Contrast Erasmus' In Praise of Folly and Thomas More's Richard III as Humanist expressions of the irrational.

runner up: Discuss Spesner's development of the dream vision episode, particularly with respect to earlier forms of the dream vision in Skelton and Langland. (Skelton!? bastard)

Easiest Question: What's so medieval about Shakespeare's Richard II?

Bless their hearts, they started me with the above.