I don’t think I can accurately put into words how relieved I am that my candidacy is both done and went well. Or so I’m told. 😛
To be honest, I was quite sure I had failed it when I was standing in the hall. But, my supervisor pulled me aside at the very end (once everyone else had left) and said that although I probably thought it hadn’t gone well, it had gone very well. Since my experience is that he doesn’t just say things like that unless he means them, I’m going to trust that he is right. And focus on the fact that they did pass me, and without any conditions.
Now that I’ve gone through mine, I can better detail how it works in my department. Based on what I’ve heard from others from other departments/university, I know we have an “easy” one. Although it didn’t feel that way today.
So here’s how candidacy works in my department:
First, you write what is essentially a research proposal. It needs to detail what you’re doing, what you’ve done, what you plan to do, and the background knowledge you have to do what you’re going to do. This makes the document kind of vague as to how to style and organize it. But it usually ends up along the lines of intro, background, here’s what I’ve done, here’s what I’m going to do (repeat if needed), and here’s my timeline for the rest of my time here (hopefully). You’ll go through edits and versions and you’ll never know if it’s good enough, because there’s no clear standard to compare it too. So eventually you just have to decide it’s done.
Second, it gets sent to your committee. The committee is supposed to have some arbitrary amount of time to look it over – I think it’s 18 working days (yes, odd). Mine had much more than that, as I needed to get it done before my supervisor went on vacation, and then couldn’t meet with the committee until other members had come back from their vacations. Even though they have all this time, I know at least one committee member who started reading mine less than 48 hours before the exam. I think this is probably normal, typical and to be expected. Yes, you had to stress and get it done well in advance, but they don’t actually need to use that time you give them. 😦
Third and finally, you have what amounts to a master’s defence. Everyone shows up and gets introduced (in case you don’t know them) then you get kicked out of the room while they discuss you. Here they are supposed to look over your file and talk about you generally as a student – how did you do in your courses and what ones did you take, what scholarships or funding do you have, have you published, etc. They actually do have your file (and it’s not electronic). I have never seen in this file, and it does make me wonder what exactly it contains.
Once they’re done (usually only a few minutes), you go back in and give them a 20 minute presentation. They timed me – I came in at 19:30. 🙂 Apparently they are actually supposed to cut you off at 20, but I don’t think many hold fast to this, if you’re only a few minutes over. The presentation is supposed to recap the document – remind them of what they read or were supposed to have read. This is in case they read it when you originally sent it out, and need to be reminded what it contains. They don’t need this, but it’s procedure. And something else they can “grade” you on.
Now comes two rounds of questions. There is a specified order, and it appeared to be internal external (the one who’s from your university but not department), internal (the one from your department but not on your supervisory committee), and then your supervisory committee ending with your supervisor. Each member is given about 10 minutes to ask you questions. Some went slightly over, some were slightly under. Committee members can ask to do a follow up question after someone else asks something (my supervisor did this). After two rounds, the chair asks if anyone has any more questions (thankfully they didn’t).
Once again, you’re asked to leave the room. Now they discuss the outcome. This can take 5 minutes or 30 minutes. It’s not very clear exactly what goes in there, and I’m not sure they actually spend all the time discussing you. They remind you not to worry over how long it takes, but you will, because you’re standing there in the hallway while others decide your fate. And the longer they take, the more you start to wonder what you missed or messed up and are they failing you? I could hear my committee laughing a couple of times. When you’re nervous, it feels like they’re laughing at you, instead of whatever they were discussing. One person walked by me and said “oh, they’re laughing, that’s got to be a good sign.” In the end, it probably was, but I think I looked at this person in disbelief at the time, as my thoughts were along the lines of “Laughing? What was so funny about my candidacy!?”
Once they’re done deliberating, you’re invited back into the room, where the chair will announce the outcome. “Congratulations akaJB, you passed.” At this point, you finally start breathing again. Although, it took me a couple beats more, as I was waiting for “you passed… with these conditions.”
There are three possible outcomes – pass, pass with conditions, and fail. The conditions can be you need to take a course on x, or read a book on y, or something along those lines. Just because I don’t have set conditions, doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of takeaways from my exam. But, since this is already super long, I’ll leave those to my next post.