Michael Karlesky

A cabinet of wonders. Minus the cabinet. And possibly the wonders.

“…satisfied with your progress.”

My official letter [click to embiggen]

For the last two years I’ve been a Ph.D. student.

By the way, woah. Two whole years already!

Just after the completion of my most recent semester this past spring I was required to complete my qualifying exam. I won’t bore you with the complex details of my qualifying exam process, but I will summarize. U.S. doctoral programs generally include some form of an exam in the middle of the program to demonstrate a given student’s mastery of their area of study. Only upon passing this exam is a student allowed to progress on to their dissertation work that will complete their degree. The exam itself is, of course, incredibly demanding. It requires many hours to complete and many more hours of preparation beforehand. Once a Ph.D. student passes their qualifying exam that student is promoted to Ph.D. candidate.

I recently received the official letter that I am now a Ph.D. candidate. 

In my case, because I entered this program without any graduate credits, I have one more full semester of classes to take (this fall) and a few leftover class credits to take on top of that. More importantly, in the meantime I must now begin developing my dissertation topic towards an eventual proposal as well as begin assembling my dissertation committee. These need to come together in the months after the winter holidays.

My dissertation will entail building a complex project towards testing some hypothesis and then writing up the results for all the work to be evaluated by my dissertation committee. The written portion of this work will amount to a highly-technical book with hundreds of citations. It will only ever be read by perhaps 5–10 people at most. If I am diligent and blessed, I might be able to complete all of this in perhaps 18 months. We’ll see. What might my dissertation topic be you ask? More on this later. For a sense of what all this means in the big picture, see my earlier post about it.

So how am I feeling about this significant moment?  Well, first of all, you need to know that I’ve known unofficially that I passed my exam for a couple months now. I waited until I had the official letter to show you before posting this update. So, in a sense, this is old news to me. At the time that I first learned that I had passed I was very relieved but also quite blasé about it. I was so exhausted at that point that I barely had any gas in the tank to really care. Since then, I’ve had a good summer to recuperate. But I still really don’t care all that much. I think this is because I’m not really doing this program for the degree so much as for the experience. I am far more excited about certain ideas and thinkers I’ve encountered, skills I’m developing, relationships I’ve formed, and projects I hope to work on. So passing the exam was mostly just one more hoop jumped through on my way to bigger and better things.

I am far more appreciative of all of your constant support, dear readers, than I am of the letter I posted above. In fact, I made a special trip in order to get the original paper copy so I could show it to you here because I knew you would want to see it. So really my experience of this exam is one of gratitude — in passing it, obviously, but also to all of you for helping me through this incredibly challenging thing I’ve taken on. So, once again, thank you for all the calls, notes, prayers, and encouragement all along the way.