Behind the scenes: Candidacy Exams

By Hope Wilson (PhD candidate)

I am currently standing at the cusp of both the best and worst time of my academic career. When I received the Talvi Award this past May, I was beginning to study for my candidacy exams. My studies have now officially paid off: in October, I passed my exams. This means now that the only thing left between me and my doctoral degree is my dissertation. This is wonderful, thrilling – and also quite terrifying.

I’m certainly excited for my research. My dissertation will look into how students learn about culture during study abroad in Russia, how they learn about politeness forms while abroad, and how these two learning processes interact with one another. I’m also looking into questions of how personal experience shape learning while abroad. All of these are questions that are both important and quite complex, and so to do due diligence I’m going to have to collect multiple forms of data – quantitative and qualitative both. Some of this data will also be taken from firsthand observations: I’m planning to travel to Russia to observe students and how they interact with locals while abroad. This will, ideally, happen this coming summer.

All of this means that conducting my dissertation will not be an inexpensive proposition! Consequently, I’ve put away half of my award into my personal research fund; I’ll use it partly to compensate my research participants for their participation in my project (which, given the amount of time they’ll be spending helping me, will have to be considerable compensation). Additionally, I’m using the money partly to fund travel for myself to Russia. I’m still in the midst of applying for further grants to fund my travel and research, but this award got me a little bit closer to the amount I’ll need to go out to Russia next summer.

The other half of the award, I actually spent this year. Preparing for your candidacy exams is, as I found out, a stressful and nervewracking process. Travel has always proved an excellent way to fight stress. So I used the money to explore new places and have new experiences this summer. I bought a ticket to the East Coast and traveled to Newark, then took a train up to New Haven. I spent some time studying in the Yale libraries, connecting with some old friends and professional contacts…and I also spent some time on the beach, connecting with the ocean. All in the name of diligently studying for my exams, of course.

Progressing through a PhD program certainly isn’t simple or straightforward; as I’ve discovered, you need considerable resources, both material and emotional. This award has helped build up both of those considerably.

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