Candidacy documents/exams

Candidacy is such an interesting experience for PhD students, because it’s so university and department specific. Some Universities/departments have giant exams (oral or written) that must be studied for while others require writing some kind of document.

In my department (but not specific to my university), we are required to write a candidacy document. What should this document include? Well, that really depends on who you talk to. How long should the document be? That also depends on who you talk to. There really aren’t many rules when it comes to the candidacy document.

Not only do we have to write this mysterious undefined document, but we also have to defend it. Really, it’s like doing a Master’s defense all over again.  You write a document, send it to a committee, then give a short presentation to the committee followed by a period of time when they grill you over the document. At the end of this, you are either patted on the back and told to continue on, told you need to make some detours (maybe pick up a few extra clases, read a specific book) and then continue, or (rarely) told that this PhD thing is really not for you.

I have been working on a candidacy document off and on for a while now. But, I really want to get it done. I’d love to finish this summer. It was suppose to happen last semester, but then we kept waiting on other things (like experiments) to finish first. However, in hindsight, I should’ve been doing much more work on the writing back then.

So now, I’m trying to pull it all together. It’s kind of irritating, because as I work on it, I’m also working on research, which means it’s hard to define what content should or should not end up in the document. And, the longer it takes, the more solid some ideas become, and so an earlier draft, that hand waves about something no longer matches reality.

Personally, I think candidacy documents should be short. Like under 20 pages short. Because it should be on the level of here is what I propose to do, here is what I’ve done, here’s some of the related work to it, and here’s how I’ll evaluate at the end to determine if I succeeded or not. Instead, candidacy documents (in my department) are often over 100 pages long! And they go into a lot of depth on what has been done. This is also because they (generally) happen very late in the PhD process, and so there’s lots of work that can be discussed.

My document is already over 25 pages, and parts of it are just sketched out, which means they’ll grow a lot. However, I’m also trying to look at where I can cut back and what I can remove as I continue forward. And where pictures and graphs and tables can help.

Anyway, I’m going to continue to chip away at it, and hopefully, in the relatively near future, I’ll have a completed version that I can move forward with.


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