Friday, August 23, 2013

Finish the Sentence Fridays - I wasn't really myself when... #ftsf

Time for another entry in the "Finish the Sentence Friday" blog link up!!

It's a fun weekly event hosted by a bunch of great ladies, click on the button above to learn more about the hosts and how you can join in the fun!
This week's theme: I wasn't really myself when...

...I took my first qualifying exam for my doctoral program. I'm not sure if my doctoral program is identical to others, but I am going for my Doctor of Public Health degree with a concentration in epidemiology. In my program, you have to take your first qualifying exam about 3 semesters into your studies to basically prove you are ready to study at the "next level" (e.g. propose new theories, challenge existing correlations, etc.) I had always thought that the big scary monster in the closet for me would be the dissertation defense. But once I settled into the program and heard stories about the first qualifying examination, I had a much sooner nightmare to contend with.

The reason why this exam is so frightening is that it determines your future in the program and basically, your life! You have 2 weeks to answer 3 questions - easy enough, right? For our program, there was a basic public health theory question, a track specific question and a question on public health leadership. Doesn't sound so bad! Well... you have 5 pages, double spaced per question to basically synthesize every single article you've ever come across in the realm of the question. If you think you can summarize these articles and simply report back, you're wrong! It's like baking a cake - you have to take all of the ingredients (e.g., important parts of an article from author X, a helpful chapter from a textbook written by author Y) and synthesize it into a tasty concoction of current information and trends. Did I mention that you only have 1 chance to retake the exam if you fail and if you fail that attempt, you have to leave the program?!
Sounds about right :).
If it sounds overwhelming, that's because it is! From the moment the exam was emailed to me, all I did was eat, sleep and breathe "first exam". Like the rest of my classmates, I abandoned non-essential internet usage (especially Facebook and Twitter!!), and completely dedicated myself to completing the exam to the best of my abilities. When I realized I couldn't resist the temptation of having a television in the same room as the room where I was doing most of my work, I ended up using the computer lab of my undergraduate alma mater (whose students were on winter break so it was relatively quiet there) to re-read articles I had saved that I knew would be important as well as those on our official reading list, scouring Google Scholar for articles to support a point I KNEW that I had heard before and typing/highlighting my draft answers in more colors than a bag of jellybeans!!

Even though 2 weeks SEEMED like a long time, it wasn't. Especially considering it took me a week to write out an answer to the first question that I was confident about (and still had the other 2 to go). Getting 8 hours of sleep suddenly became a distant fantasy, the likes of which was only forgotten by consuming massive amounts of Diet Mountain Dew. Also, my dinners consisted of whatever was in the nearest vending machine, most often doritos or fritos. I was a walking zombie, but even though I was incredibly sleep deprived, I had to use my brain MORE than I would have on a full night sleep. I was a machine - a nutty, sleep-deprived, malnourished studying machine!!

It got so nuts that I didn't sleep for almost 40 hours straight as the deadline approached. The icing on the cake was that I still had to get my butt up after only sleeping a few hours once I officially submitted the exam to get on a train back down to NYC (to Lehman College in the Bronx) for my first day of class. Wow! 
I am happy to report back that I passed the exam as of March 2012 :). But unfortunately, more scary hurdles are ahead in my academic career (my second comprehensive exam in February, and dissertation-related fun for the remainder of 2014/2015). Although now that I have a baby, I think I have more training in how t handle that "functioning on little sleep" thing :)

Thanks for reading :)

~Tia

3 comments:

  1. It sounds intensive! I'm sure you will do just fine, don't let the stress get to you! I don't know about you, but I operate and think better when I am calm :)

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    1. You are so right. My 2nd exam is a lot better than my 1st exam (at least so far) because it's basically a literature review and oral defense of topics that I choose. I'm working on risk factors for cesarean delivery and provider & patient-based influences on reproductive health decisions. :) I'll be posting more about that in the future so stay tuned!

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  2. Sounds like half the exam is just finding out if you can handle the stress of TAKING the exam. Whew!! What a doozy.

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