13. Through the Desert
17K (not counting references) words, 33 hours of writing (not counting lunches): The long Fimbulwinter that was the Dread of the Weary has passed, all that remains are my oral exam, proposal defense, and lots and lots of work. For those of you who don't feel like digging into The Dread of the Weary proper, I'll be posting my individual comps again here:
Holliday, Mitchell, Svenson, Barton, Duff
I also plan to spend a few posts in the coming weeks talking about my experiences with comps (again, expanding from the above posts), which I'll also be doing here today.
As I talked about in Dread of the Weary, as I prepared for my comps, five days of full-day exams, I could feel the edges of my realms of knowledge coming into contact with each other, like glowing neurons in the void extending outward. And what I knew would happen, but was still surprised to experience, was that doing my comps was a crucible that forged them together. I knew that each of my committee members had some overlap with another, but I didn't expect to be constantly using information from each of them for all of them. I thought I would still have these five neural nodes with some bridges forming essentially a ring, and instead now I have more of a Tetsuo-esque horror beast, the perfect (in the sense that a horrific monster made of five things mashed up together into a blob is perfect) synthesis of what I know. I didn't expect that.
What's more, I knew, but didn't really understand, that'd I'd be pushed to the edges of my knowledge. To change metaphors, even without seeing them, I could feel the frayed edges of the fabric of what I knew. In Gavin's exam I could sense my shortcomings in knowing the historical interventions used by museums; for Randy, the history of science communication; for Gavin, my general knowledge of evolution and phylogenetics, particularly the development of it since the modern synthesis, is much weaker than I'd like; Hazel's material I think was by far my favorite, and perhaps the easiest besides the challenge of the page limit, but it was a great thought exercise to defend my work; Joel too gave me great exercises, and had me both explore and defend materials relevant to my future work.
I have to run a pilot of a lab module on the third, a written piece due on the seventh for ComSciCon-Chicago 2017, and move to a new apartment on the eleventh; busy, but all good things. At the top of the page you'll see a word cloud I put together of all the words I typed in all of my comps (sans references and common words). See if you can piece together what I'm all about. I'm sad that I couldn't come up with an excuse to get "The Deep" in there a few times.
Each of my comprehensive exams had some twist to it in regards to the others.
Holliday's was a single essay based off a single prompt.
Mitchell's was four essay questions with a lot of flexibility.
Svenson's was by hand with a six hour time limit.
Barton's was two questions, with a page limit.
Duff's was two questions, one a response to a video, and the other a defense of a material, both with differing limitations.
Of all my cops, the last two were by far my favorites. I certainly had to do a lot of work for all of them, and some of them in particular were daunting, but I'm most pleased with my first responses to both Hazel and Joel's exams. I'm honestly proud of them, and really hope to do more with those pieces in the future. Hazel's was a defense of game-based learning research, Joel's a dissection of a YEC video with reflection. I have not done so much work, with such curves, and time limits, and word limits, and constraints, and it's an experience I simultaneously never want to do again, and also wish I could do every year. Building the mental models that intertwined Informal Education, Science Communication, Phylogenetics, Gamification, and Historical Science was absolutely exhilarating. At times I was frantic, at other times daunted, or calm.
By the second day I got into the swing of spending a full work day just writing and grabbing references. I honestly don't know how significant a role the ordering of my comps was in my experience with them; honestly I don't even know if it's something you could ever do a study on, since the experience of comps is intrinsically unique for each person. But I know that I was looking forward to Hazel's exam all week, and was nervous about Gavin's (and ended up not having too hard of a time at it).
I think that it can not be overstated how useful it is to do comps, or even something similar; to just spend a month, or two months, or THREE months reading and reading and reading about a bunch of distinct topics that all related to your research, because the process will expose that because they're all related to your work, they're all related to each other, and that's one of the biggest takeaways I had from my comps. In short, what are the biggest takeaways from each of my exams, and whose other exams helped illuminate my experiences with them (both before and after)?
Holliday: My weak spots are the historical developments of informal education in museums and historical developments in most fields, generally; this was further highlighted by both Mitchell's and Svenson's exams.
Mitchell: I really am a Science Communicator, whether that be in the framing of addressing misconceptions, or merely discussing a topic I'm interested in. If I can pull on my own personal interest, I can make something interesting, and that can in turn be applied to finding how to make anything interesting to anyone: make it relevant.
Svenson: My biggest takeaway was rather simple, and it was the nature of Evolutionary Theory. The theory of evolution is not that things evolve, by which I mean, the word evolve is not one which should be used as a verb if possible. Evolution is the result of a number of distinct processes (at the microevolutionary level, natural selection, mutation, biased mutation, gene migration, and genetic drift), and it is the interaction of these processes that produces the bulk changes that we describe as evolution. What I even more pertinently found is that each of these factors can be best described by not only the principles behind it, but by how the other processes disrupt it. Genetic drift adds randomness, migration mitigates allele frequency shifts, Biased mutation affects neutral selection, mutations produce variation to be acted upon, and selection is what affects fitness as a unit.
Hazel: I defended game-based education, and explored gamification. I took what I had been thinking for months now, and articulated it. And most importantly I did myself proud.
Duff: I explored both science communication, and more importantly, the principles of historical science, which will be intrinsically useful in any and all discussion regarding such fields in a communicatory framework.