1 Some Tips on Comprehensive Exams in Sociology at UBC Fall 2010.
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1 Some Tips on Comprehensive Exams in Sociology at UBC Fall 2010
2 Comprehensive Examinations. The department offers comprehensive examinations in the following areas: 1.Aging and the Life Course 2.Canadian Society 3.Community 4.Comparative Sociology 5.Culture 6.Education 7.Environment 8.Family 9.Gender and Sexuality 10.Health and Healthcare 11.Knowledge and Ideas 12.Law and Crime 13.Migration and Immigration 14.Politics and Social Policy 15.Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations 16.Social Inequality 17.Social Movements and Collective Action 18.Sociological Research Methods 19.Sociological Theory 20.Work and Economy
3 Two Exams, Should be Completed in Year 2 “Students are required to write two separate comprehensive examinations which are normally taken in the second year of the program and must be completed prior to commencement of the fourth year of the Ph.D. program. Whenever possible students should select comprehensive examinations that build upon their prior coursework and training. Students who do not pass both comprehensive examinations will not be advanced to candidacy and may not continue in the program. A student failing a comprehensive examination may repeat it once.”
4 Reading List “At the first stage of each comprehensive examination, the student must develop a reading list of 25-40 items in consultation with his or her Comprehensive Examination Committee.” You should not charge ahead and try to complete a list without input from the exam committee chair, and committee members.
5 Reading List “Up to one third of the total number of items in each exam can focus on the student's prospective dissertation topic area to the extent that those items bear on the area covered by the exam.” Remember, the exam is broader than just your dissertation topic. It is a COMPREHENSIVE Exam, not a SPECIFIC Exam!
6 Two Components of Each Exam. Each comprehensive exam is comprised of two parts: 1. A Critical Literature Review. 2. Either a Take-Home Exam, or an Oral Exam.
7 The written exam must be completed over 3–5 days. (Usually 5 days.) The Oral Exam is 2 hours in length.
8 Critical Literature Review “The student then completes a critical literature review of 30-50 double-spaced pages. The literature review should demonstrate an adequate comprehension of the breadth of the field under study and an in-depth understanding of specific issues and debates in the field. Each evaluator must read the literature review and then submit a standard form to the Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee which indicates i) "Pass," ii) "Specified Revisions" or iii) "Fail and Redo (once)". A student may not proceed to the next stage of the exam without receiving a "pass" for the literature review from the majority of Examination Committee members.”
9 Written Exam “As part of the written exam students may be asked to develop essays, a course design, a sample lecture and/or a research design for an empirical study. The precise details of the written exam format and content are the responsibility of the Comprehensive Examination Committee, in consultation with the student.” Most written comprehensive exams are comprised mainly by essay questions/topics. Written comprehensive exams are more common than oral exams.
10 Oral Exam “As part of the oral exam, the student will ordinarily be required to submit a 10-20 page paper, course design, sample lecture and/or research design for an empirical study on the topic of the exam to each Comprehensive Examination Committee member at least one week before the scheduled exam. The topic for the oral exam is determined by the Comprehensive Examination Committee in consultation with the student.” One purpose for the written materials, associated with an oral exam, is to provide a focus for the questioning.
11 Oral Exam. “Students usually begin the oral examination with a 20–30 minute presentation which is followed by questions from committee members.”
12 Evaluation. “After the written or oral exam, each evaluator must submit a memo to the Comprehensive Examination Committee Chair which indicates i) Pass, ii) Specified Additional Requirements, or iii) Fail and Redo (once). When two or more examiners select the third option the candidate is deemed to have failed the comprehensive examination. In this case, a written report highlighting weaknesses must be submitted to the student and to the SGSC. In the event of failure, the same Comprehensive Examination Committee (with replacements determined by the SGSC if necessary) will conduct a re-examination at a later date. Alternatively the student may choose a new area after a failed examination in which case a new Comprehensive Examination Committee will be formed. The student will be allowed to write such a new comprehensive examination only once.”
13 Evaluation. “Comprehensive Examination Committee members are expected to provide the student with written feedback on the written exam or on the written component of the oral exam. Once completed, the Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee must submit a written report to the SGSC describing the timing, format and outcome of the comprehensive examination.”
14 While you should consult your Ph.D. supervisor about your comprehensive exams you should bear in mind that your supervisor does not need to be the comprehensive exam chair, and in fact your dissertation committee members do not need necessarily to be on your comprehensive exam committees.
15 Comprehensive exam committees (in my view) should be organized based on the expertise of the potential committee members (e.g. the fit between the expertise of the committee members, and the topic of the exam). (Though, in practice, usually at least one comp will have some dissertation committee members on it due to the overlap in topic between comps and dissertation topics.)
16 Candidacy “Students normally will be “advanced to candidacy” when they have completed the residency period, completed all required coursework, passed the comprehensive examinations, formed an Advisory Committee, and their Supervisor has certified that their dissertation proposal has been approved by all members of the Advisory Committee. Advancement to candidacy is noted on the student's official transcript. FoGS expects that a typical doctoral student will be advanced to candidacy on completion of a two-year residency period.” Generally, if you have not advanced to candidacy by the end of your third year YOU WILL BE KICKED OUT OF THE PROGRAM. Advancing to candidacy means: 1) completing your course work, 2) completing your comprehensive exams, AND 3) getting your dissertation proposal officially approved.
17 Some Questions Q1. When is the right time to contact your committee and ask for a meeting, is it after you have basically formed your reading list or is it much before? A1: Much before! You need to consult with them in putting together the reading list.
18 Some Questions Q2. “Also it would be good to get some tips on how to first engage with the literature if you are doing a comp in a field you know very little about. Or in other words what are good strategies to be able to find the key texts and debates within the field you are studying?” A2. First of all, you should probably not be doing a comprehensive exam in a field that you know very little about. You should normally have done some prior work in the area, such as having taken a seminar or directed studies course in the topic area. The reading lists of these courses are one place to start. But you should also talk to the comp chair, and ask for suggestions, and also ask for reading lists from other students who have done comprehensive exams in the area.
19 Some Questions Q3. “Shall we come up with readings before setting up committees?” A3. No.
20 Some Questions Q4. “Shall we ask people to chair the comps or the committee members decide who is going to be the chair?” A4. You should discuss it first with your Ph.D. chair, and then raise the issue with the committee members. It depends on various factors. For example, some times certain people have relatively more expertise or experience in a topic area, and thus it might make sense for them to chair. But on the other hand, faculty members vary in terms of their available time (and other characteristics), and sometimes busier people might be happy to delegate to those with a somewhat lighter load.
21 Some Questions Q5. How many books and articles shall we read? A5. Generally about 10 to 15 books, and 20 – 30 additional articles or book chapters.
22 Some Questions Q6. Are we supposed to meet with the committee member regularly? Or just for the exam. A6. The committee should meet at least once before the exam (to discuss the composition of the reading list, the format of the exam, and the relationship of the exam to the student’s previous work, and planned dissertation research). But you should also meet with individual committee members from time to time if you wish to ask questions, and discuss particular issues.