My Road to the Ph.D.: Candidacy

After class tonight, I have a workshop to attend that will focus on preparing for the doctoral candidacy exams that I will most likely be taking in May of 2011 right before my 2nd (and final!) summer of course work begins. I’m hoping it will be helpful… but you never know.

There are two exams a Ph.D. student will take: the first being the doctoral candidacy exam and the second being the competency exam. The first is taken approximately half way through one’s coursework as a means of measuring satisfactory retention and application of knowledge, as well as providing a measure for the faculty that one is prepared to move on into the final stages of the degree and it is more broad in its scope of assessment. The second is more focused as it is an exam built by the student, that is, students selection the genre of literature, the time period, and one particular author all of which they will be tested on. This final exam takes place after all coursework is complete and it’s the final step a doctoral candidate must complete before they can move on to beginning their dissertation.

Think of the candidacy exam as breadth and the competency exam as depth.

The candidacy exam I will take will consist of 4 essay completed over the course of two days–two per 4-hour session. Each essay is expected to be at least 5-10 pages in length–that’s right, 10-20 pages typed in 4 hours. Each essay will be focused on 1 of 4 periods

  • A:  Old & Middle English (Beowulf, Chaucer)
  • B:  Renaissance & Early Modern British Lit (Shakespeare, Wordsworth)
  • C:  American Literature (Emerson, Poe)
  • D:  Literary Theory (Plato, Marx)

Now, in order to be able to answer one of the two questions per period, one needs to be very well-read.  To this effect, every student is required to produce a reading list for each period consisting of no less than 30 authors based on a master list compiled by the department.  With luck, you’ll have read some of these writers’ works during the first half of your grad study but chances are, you will not have recently read most of them (and I say recently because with the level of detail required, you won’t want to rely on what you remember from a few years ago).

Additionally, we need to apply pedagogical (teaching) theory to 2 out of 4 essays and literary theory and criticism to 3 out of 4 essays–so yes, there will be overlap.  So not only do we need to demonstrate a critical understanding of the works of numerous authors, but we also must show that we can apply different ways of viewing and interpreting those as well as developing sound methods of teaching that material to college undergraduates.

Sounds like fun, huh?


About fhelvie

I live in CT with my wife and two sons. I am also writing my doctoral dissertation, which is focused on the relationship between American literature and comic book superheroes. I have served as a panelist at a number of conferences discussing my research in comics, medieval literature, and pedagogy. Most recently, I had the good fortune to present at the New York Comic Con. In addition to my work in comics scholarship, I'm also a full-time professor of developmental English.
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