In my program, it is customary for students taking their prelim exams to kick off the blessed event by sending their committee a list of question they, the graduate student, thinks would be good questions for their exams. Some committees use these questions as a guide for the questions they send to the student.

Mine, at least as far as I could tell, completely ignored the (excellent) questions I sent them.

At the end of the oral defense of prelims, my committee asked if I had any questions for them. I did. I asked why they hadn’t used the questions I sent them in the first place. “Those weren’t prelim questions,” they said, “Those were the questions you’ll be answering in your dissertation.”

And that moment, that particular moment at the very, very end of my prelims was when I finally got what prelims actually are.

Hey There! I’m so happy you found this post! In the first year of abd2phd, I did a month long blog series on how to survive your prelims. Since then, I’ve updated this advice with what I’ve learned from clients and what I’ve learned about executive function. I created a series of worksheets to cover everything from your prelim timeline to assignments you could give your students if you have to teach during your prelims. I’ve put that all together in one place for your convenience. You can buy it here.


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[…] Prelims/Exams/Fields: In brief, your preliminary exams, or prelims are the time at which your committee assesses whether or not you are familiar with the fields in which you wish to contribute as a scholar. We actually had a whole series on how to prep for prelims and, though we say it ourselves, it holds up pretty well. If you want to know more about what prelims are we recommend this post. […]

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