Doctoral Exams

Written: January 31-February 3, 2003
Oral: February 11, 2003


I started in the Women’s Studies Ph.D program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in August of 2000. After two years of coursework, I took my doctoral exams, one on feminist theory and one on ethics, during the weekend of February 1-2, 2003. I emailed my exams (two essays that had to be 10 pages or less) to my exam committee, Dr. Cynthia Willett, Dr. Pamela Hall and Dr. Elizabeth Bounds, on February 3.

I loved my committee and I appreciated the structure of my exams. Instead of required lists (which seems to be the case in other fields), I was able to completely craft my own lists and questions for the exams. As a result, my list and the essays I wrote for my exams directly fed into my dissertation (I think I even used big chunks of the essays in my dissertation). Also, I was able to choose whether to do a sit-down exam for two hours or a take-home essay exam for 48 hours (if I remember the details correctly). Since I was almost 8 months pregnant with my son FWA, I loved the take-home option.

I don’t remember that much about writing the exam. I do recall that when I started writing, I listened to (and sang along with!) the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. That song continued to inspire me for years as I struggled to write academic essays. One other thing that I remember from the exam process was how fun it was to do my oral exams. The oral exams happened just over a week after I submitted my written exam. It was a closed exam (so no pompous academics or academics-in-training were present to “peacock” or trash my project) and we spent most of the time experimenting and playing with the ideas that I proposed in my essays. And we laughed a lot.

Troublemaking Influence

As I think back on that exam experience, I realize that the Department of Women’s Studies at Emory University and the amazing committee members that I had fostered my troublemaking (and resistance to academics-as-usual) by offering a model for how to be an academic and/or do academic work that was fun and joyful and meaningful. A model that didn’t demand that I merely jump through hoops to prove that I was a serious-enough scholar or that required that I learn a specific canon of (outdated and not always relevant) sources to prove my marketability. A model that encouraged me to  claim my education and shape it in the ways that worked for me and my larger intellectual (academic and otherwise) aims.

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