Thursday, May 30, 2013

One Small Step...

Today I completed a small step in my graduate student life.  I submitted my comprehensive exam topics for final approval.  Maybe I should not celebrate until they receive the long awaited stamp, but after four years of graduate school, each little step of the final exam process seems to deserve a bit of celebration.

You probably do not doubt me and could live without the gruesome details of this exam, but for those that are curious as to why this is a big deal, let me share my little triumph.

I started graduate school in the summer of 2009.  Thanks to the generosity of a program offered by my diocese and the University of Notre Dame, I have been able to keep my full time job while studying for my MA in Theology.  The past four summers I have attended a three week summer session taking two graduate classes.  These summer classes are brutal.  After almost six hours of being in a classroom you have just enough time to prepare a quick meal and hit the books to be prepared for the next day in classes.  Just to wallow in self pity a bit more can I mention the lack of AC and record breaking temperatures each summer?  I would have never thought that six fans in one room could provide such minimal relief.

Living in a tent would have been nicer than last summer's weather.

During the school year I would take one class a semester.  These classes would meet three times a semester, cramming a month of lectures into a weekend.  In between classes there would be reading and assignments and more readings to do.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed when classes were over.  Until the reality of  comprehensive exam prep set in.  Our comprehensive exam has a written and oral component and is tailored to each student.  How is it tailored to each student?  Well, you pick your own topic areas and create bibliographies for each.  Once my topics and bibliographies are approved, a panel of three professors is formed.  They each write a couple questions based on my topics and bibliographies and the test facilitator picks which ones will be on my written exam.  At the end of July I will have a written test on these questions and then a few days later, I will sit before those same professors for an oral test based on what I wrote, the topics and bibliographies.  If I could write a paper right now, I would so do it!

Picking five topic areas within theology that I am interested in was not necessarily the most difficult part of the process.  The most challenging thing for me was picking the books that I would study for each topic.  The knowledge that I would be spending a good deal of time with my nose between these blessed pages and once it was approved I was stuck, is a little overwhelming.  Doubts of picking the wrong book or hating something that I originally loved filled my head.  In the end I have twenty books and five articles that I get to learn in intimate detail.  Some of them I have read before, a few I never knew existed until this search began.  I know one thing for sure we will be BFs by the end of this process- be it best friends or best "frenemies" only time will tell.

The stack.

It would be wrong to pretend like I have gone through this process alone.  I have been very much accompanied throughout it all.  My classmates are some of the nicest people.  My co-workers always ask about how thins are going and offer support in anyway they can.  My dear friend, classmate, and summer school roommate has been there through all the ups and downs and makes studying as enjoyable as it could possibly be (I may be weird, but I find strange enjoyment in making study guides).  My friends have understood when I disappear in order to focus on classes and remind me not to be so stressed.  My boyfriend has been so supportive and encouraged me every single time I threaten to throw in the towel.  And my family, words cannot describe how supportive they have been.  The intensity of the studies have often turned me into a complete mess going from being a bear to a puddle of tears faster than light.  I hope during this last sprint to the finish I can do better and remain present to the gift of an education I am receiving as well as the love and support of those closest to me.  Thank you.

But for now, I am going to relish in the moment of this one small step closer to the finish line.


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