Ah, summer. That beautiful period that comes right after a taxing semester of meetings, courses, and complex critical theory. Depending on your situation, this might be a time of excitement as you have finally booked that dream vacation to Malaga, Spain (make sure you visit Gibraltar), or it could be financially distressing in that your stipend will be placed on hold for a couple of months. However, before you relax, look into gainful employment, hit the beach, or sign up for intramural softball, remember that summer is also the perfect time to prepare for those impending comprehensive exams.
I have finished my second complete year in the Texts and Technology program. While it is admittedly nice to be done with coursework, reality set in almost immediately that the next phase requires self-discipline, a solid routine, and a desire to succeed. Fortunately, as you have no doubt discovered, T&T has a plethora of outstanding resources for you. For my July blog entry, I would like to share with you some summer suggestions before you head on over to your local golf course or beach for some fun in the sun. First and foremost, remember that it’s never too early to start brainstorming about who will serve on your committee. Whether you have finished your first or second year in the program, you’ve undoubtedly established rapport with certain professors. Now it’s just a matter of reaching out to them. If they say no, chances are it has more to do with the fact that they are extremely busy and much less to do with your research interests, so don’t feel discouraged if this happens. At the latest, at least have your committee verbally commit before you take off for the summer after your fourth semester in the program. Now that this important caveat is out of the way, let’s move on to summer tips!
- Remind yourself of your research interests or what you want to get out of your time at the University of Central Florida. Remember when you were applying to graduate school and you had to write your statement of purpose? Chances are that if you peruse it after your first year in the program, the person who wrote it is now different after spending a few months in Orlando (thanks, Derrida). It’s not uncommon for students to modify their research interests as they start to develop a sense of what Texts and Technology truly is. Now that you are familiar with the professors, courses, and even area, take some time to reflect on your interests. What were you interested in before you came to UCF? What has changed? What courses were most responsible for forcing you to ask new questions? Conversely, what challenges (if any) have you encountered that have made you rethink your strategy in graduate school? If your plans changed, that’s perfectly understandable. Just be sure to introspectively ask questions about where you currently see yourself in T&T and what sort of ideas you may have about graduating with a doctorate.
- Figure out what core texts you will read for your first comp exam. As you no doubt have discovered in your academic career, brainstorming early is often a virtue. Unfortunately, the first test is closed everything, and it is up to you to rely on your own abilities to piece together common themes and summaries. Fortunately, depending on your courses, you will have already gained access to several core texts. Be sure to put these on your list as you are already familiar with them, or at the very least they will require minimal to moderate note reviews. However, give your reading list considerable thought as opposed to either picking at random or choosing the first thirty options. After all, these exams will not only test your knowledge on seminal texts in the program, but the expectation is you will be able to construct answers based on your own research fields.
- Choose your two research fields and texts for your next exams. Texts and Technology is a very diverse program that has enticed students from multiple backgrounds and disciplines. As such, part of the beauty of the second and third reading list exams is that you are asserting your role as an expert in fields of your choice. When choosing the texts for these lists, reflect on classes, assignments, conferences, workshops, and events that might contain information you earnestly wish to explore.
- Establish a realistic summer routine. Now that you have most of your texts in order, it’s time to read. However, with so many distractions during the summer, even the most well-intentioned students occasionally hit snags. Instead of telling yourself that you are going to read (or “play” in some cases) as many texts as possible whenever you can, give yourself a weekly goal. For example, you might consider 3-5 texts a week. By the end of the summer, such a goal would definitely add up before the start of the fall semester!
- Notes and annotations are key. Of course, if your only responsibility were reading the texts, that would be far too easy. Arguably, the more important (and taxing) task of the summer will be your notes and annotations. Every person is different when it comes to note-taking. For example, I prefer to write down direct quotes and then paraphrase them in my own words so that I know I truly understand the material. Themes and theses are also key. Plots and allusions are intriguing, but what is the overall point of the book, chapter, article, or interactive text? Be sure to answer this question as finding commonalities between texts is important. When you have finished your text and compiling notes, annotate what you just reviewed. My strategy is to mention the theme(s) outright, incorporate some quotes to bolster my argument, and summarize other intriguing content that I found fascinating. However, annotations also can be used for you to suggest what the text’s shortcomings might be and also how it directly applies to your own research. A thorough annotation will go a long way when it is time to actually take the exams.
- Stay in touch with your committee and your colleagues over the summer. Every professor is different, and many will have other suggestions for you. However, all of them will want to hear about your progress and might even have some more recommendations for you depending on your weekly goals. This is precisely why it is vital to keep communication channels open during the summer. This also goes for your colleagues in the program. Some members of my cohort and I have gotten in the habit of checking in with each other and reviewing annotations. Not only is this important from a practical standpoint in terms of making sure you didn’t miss anything, but it also keeps your group accountable. Whether or not you want to communicate with every member in your cohort or just a few is up to your predilections, but just be sure to stay in touch.
- During the summer, inspiration can and will come from the weirdest places. After my first year in the program in 2015, I returned home to Wyoming. One evening, I had dinner with my aunt and uncle. After informing them of the Texts and Technology program and my research interests, they immediately set me up with an engineering professor at the University of Wyoming. He went on to become my supervisor for the internship, and we are currently in the process of creating an experiment that addresses intrinsic motivation. This summer, I learned that there is a call for papers for a forthcoming professional wrestling book. As you relax, read, and prepare for your exams, be sure to keep your ear to the ground during the summer for potential opportunities worth exploring while you aren’t taking courses. You never know what might happen!
Summer can be an amazing and relatively low-stress time to either prepare for your exams or to brainstorm for your dissertation. Just remember that summer isn’t meant to be a dead sprint, but rather a marathon. If you feel mentally or physically exhausted, take a day off and do something else. If you are having difficulty comprehending a particular text, check to see what others have said about it before pressing on. If a unique opportunity presents itself, explore it! Best of luck to you for the rest of the summer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is time to walk a few golden retrievers and check to see what I accidentally downloaded from Steam this time.
***Editor’s note: To get started on your preparation, visit the Resources page on the T&T program’s website: https://cah.ucf.edu/textstech/resources.php. Here, you’ll find the reading list and evaluation rubric for candidacy exams, as well as the T&T Handbook, which will guide your overall progress through the program.