Preliminary Exams

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(While this is from the UC Davis Grad School website, it is the closest thing that I could find that simply and accurately explains the process — just change Qualifying Exam to Preliminary Exam and you’ll have a pretty good idea of both where I am in the program and what is still left to be done.)

It seems as if I’m always apologizing for stepping away from the blog for various reasons (illness and the like). For the past two weeks, I’ve been in “crunch” mode for reading trying to prepare for my Preliminary Exams. So, what are preliminary exams? Well, they work differently at different schools, but essentially they are the “final exams” that one takes before moving on to the dissertation phase of graduate work.

PhD Student

So a PhD student is much the same as any other Master’s level student as we attend the same classes. The primary difference is the amount of work we have to produce for those classes. Generally speaking (with some few exceptions), PhD students are required to produce longer works and provide more in-depth analysis for scholarly materials. There are other things that we are supposed to do that is more than a Master’s student might have to be responsible for, but in general, we simply produce more volume and are required to use more sources and go into a topic in far greater depth. At the end (or close to the end) of one’s classes, there is some sort of “gateway” (usually in the form of some sort of test) that one has to pass. For me, this is the Preliminary Exam.

PhD Candidate

Once one passes the Preliminary Exam (again, this specific to my program, although it can be somewhat generalized to other programs), one moves from being a “student” to a “candidate.” This means that one either has passed all of the preliminary stages (or in my case, will soon pass) all remaining requirements. For me, I have a couple of more electives that I need to take as I am finishing the last of my “required” courses this semester. My next major responsibilities will be coming up with a Research Proposal/Prospectus for what I want to do my dissertation on and putting together a committee to direct my dissertation. I’m planning on locking this down over the summer.


ABD = All But Dissertation. Unlike the previous two headings which are official, there’s a third, unofficial heading. When one has completed everything (classes, submitting dissertation proposal, putting together committee, etc.) and all one has left is the actual writing of the dissertation, we informally call that person ABD (All But Dissertation). While technically still a PhD Candidate, ABD just communicates the fact that the dissertation is the last remaining hurdle to complete before that person can graduate.

Right now, I am still waiting to hear back my results from my two Preliminary Exams. I’m hoping to move from the first stage (PhD student) to the second stage (PhD Candidate). If successful, I will use the summer to put together a strong research proposal/prospectus and will try to have a committee in place before the middle of the Fall semester (Sept./Oct. 2019), so that I can spend the rest of the year and the first part of 2020 writing the dissertation.

I know that’s probably WAY more than you wanted to know about my school life, but I hope that it, in some small way, explains why the blog has had to take a backseat for the past two/three weeks due to these Preliminary exams and illness. Well, that’s all I have for right now. Have a good day!


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:

  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

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