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Thread: Any other Grad students? Question about candidacy exam.

  1. #1

    Unhappy Any other Grad students? Question about candidacy exam.

    If there are any other graduate students here in PhD programs, I have my candidacy in the Spring, and I'm already preparing the thing I need for it. I didn't have a great semester (got a B and a B+ in my two topical courses; an A and an A- in my methods courses) in the fall, and I have a hard time appearing enthusiastic in seminar (I am about the material, just can't get it across). Is the candidacy exam something worth stressing about, or should I just try to appear more interested or just take it easy? BTW, in my dept, our candidacy exam is a review, not an actual exam.

  2. #2


    What is a "candidacy exam"? I've never heard of it, and I'm about to get my PhD next month. I certainly managed to do without that exam.

  3. #3


    It depends.

    The exam to move from Ph.D. student to Ph.D. candidate varies by department and committee.

    For instance, I'm an inter-disciplinary student housed in a Psychology department, doing a dissertation in business. As the psychology exam is an all-day event that would really not meet my ends (I suppose I'm an Information Theory / Cognitive Psychology / Social Psychology / Organizational Behavior guy) I have opted for another path: the ABD-by-3-chapters-of-dissertation option.

    It would be easier for me to defend my knowledge about the field of psychology (Cognitive and Social, anyway) over the course of a day. It would also be less helpful.

    If your department has an exam, it will be hard. You should stress. Typically, people spend a semester preparing for the exam. It's a rite of passage, as candidacy essentially tells the world that your committee backs you and everything should work fine unless you royally screw something up.

    Oh. I see in your department it's a review. I'd not stress about it, but I'd also be sure I was ready. If it's a review, if you know it, you'll be fine. If you don't, you can't learn it all in a week anyway. What discipline is this, by the way?

    For those not in the 'States, ABD (All-But-Dissertation) status represents a school's last shot to bill for tuition and generally stand in the way of a student and their matriculation. As long as everyone's been communicating, post-ABD is a time of, "here's the work that you all knew was coming ... may I go now?" It's the getting of ABD status that is the hard bit.

  4. #4


    Thanks for the info. I'm in poli sci. I have a class designed to prepare us for this kind of thing, and this is topic of tomorrow. The review process is essentially just 'here's what you do well, here's the million things you need to improve upon; given these dificulties, you will/will not be allowed to continue in the program.' You get to defend yourself, and failures are pretty uncommon. You can also be decision-deferred for another semester. This exam is just the official admission to the program. And I'll get the title of PhD Candidate. I'm still a first year, btw. Thanks again.

  5. #5


    Funny that you should bring this up today; I just took one of the exams I have to take for candidate status. This one seemed to be the lesser of the two, and only required a few weeks of study plus 4 hours sweating at a keyboard. Or at least that's what I say now. I have to wait about 1 month until I know whether or not I passed. I have two more to take, although I believe only one of them has to do with candidacy. (I was bad at kickball, I was bad at cribbage, and I'm stupid with the rules to the grad school game--just puttin' out fires...) My program's a bit different from others, I'm finding--how exactly is a review different than an exam?

    From what's been written so far, it sounds like what I went through with the master's thesis; come prepared with info, ready to talk strengths and weaknesses, present your stuff and answer some was anticlimactic, in a way. That was the hurdle I had to jump in order to officially move on to the next steps (taking exams like the one this morning).

    I know how you must feel though--this morning when the exam started, my heart was pounding, and I think I lost a valuable twenty minutes to trying to get back in control of my thoughts.

    I'm a few years into my program, and I find the anxiety has diminished each year. Grad school seems to be a hole from which we escape in about 5 years. I shouldn't put it that way--remember how hard you had to work to earn the privilege to take such an exam? You wouldn't be taking it if people didn't believe in your likelihood of succeeding.

    I don't know about your program, but in mine, the student who doesn't care will be the first to lose; you seem to be pretty concerned about success, and I think that can work to your advantage. Show them your willingness to tackle weaknesses and your confidence in your own ability to learn (this can be faked if necessary). Sounds like this candidacy exam might not be worth your stress (stress might just hold you back), but perhaps it would be good to reflect upon your past semester--what went well, what didn't work for you.

    I did just that, and entirely by accident, to be honest. Got some counseling unrelated to school, which turned into counseling specifically regarding some school stuff. I'd always been a skeptic regarding counseling, but after having had some conversations with good one, I feel equal to the task now, and rather than worrying about passing exams, I worry about knowing the material.

    damn... phone...

    I think that's all I had to say. Best of luck!
    Last edited by PostTenebrasLux; 21-Jan-2009 at 00:09.

  6. #6


    Thanks for all the advice. I'm gathering from you, and from senior students in my dept, that if you prepare you'll be fine. I have to put together a CV, a research agenda, a class list of what I'll be taking prior to comps, and a backwards calendar. Aside from that, it's all about previous performance. I think I'll be ok. And regardless of the results, you stay until you complete your master's and you keep your funding. I've been considering leaving after that anyways. But for now, I want the PhD for pride if nothing else, not to mention the other doors it opens up. At least it's not a written exam.

    Thanks again for the advice.

  7. #7


    Quote Originally Posted by harris View Post
    I want the PhD for pride if nothing else, not to mention the other doors it opens up.
    To keep us all humble: the best description I've heard about the Ph.D. comes from someone who has held one for years and years on end. This was in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and it went something like this:

    I think of my Ph.D. as a Union card; it gets me in the door of my career [he was talking about academia] and lets me advance.
    I've allowed myself to get too worked up about publication; as such, I've delayed my matriculation and stayed in this holding pattern. It sounds like your program has loads more structure than mine (it's an interdisciplinary field, homed in different colleges), and that's a really good thing.


    PS: I read in Business Week a few years ago that the USA is facing a retirement crunch in 2010 - hopefully that will mean that the academic market will open up and jobs will become available.

  8. #8


    The retirement crunch is certainly true in my field. H3g3l, I liked your comment regarding the purpose of getting a PhD, or rather quote; this degree is a means to an end.

    We jump through a few hoops, sure, but the real task is absorbing the knowledge.

    Harris: I can identify with you to an extent regarding pride and the degree, but when it comes down to it, my own pride is not sufficient for me to stick with this. I picked this field for a reason, and if I have to work for a living, I'd rather do it in this field.

  9. #9


    Thank you again for the advice. You're right that pride alone is not enough. What I was referring to is that if I decide to leave with just an MA, I want to be the one to decide. Of the seven people in my office, three are leaving this Spring, but only one by choice. I don't want to be in the position of the other two, and mostly because I would regard it personally as a failure, though I don't regard others in that position to have failed.

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