Alhamdulillah, I’ve passed the dreading PhD Comprehensive Exam (CE), which is one of the UPM requirements for PhD candidate to graduate!! According to the UPM rules, CE must be taken by the 5th semester; so, taking this CE in the 4th semester validates that I am still on the track. BUT of course, it was not bed of roses. I have to deliberate and juggle the time here and there to make it work – and now everything’s over, I am kinda relieved, for a while. It was quite mind-boggling as the CE comprises both Written and Oral parts. For the Written, the three supervisors will each give the PhD candidate a question with the sub-questions (Method, Theory and Rhetoric – since I am doing that!) and the PhD candidate needs to compile these answers into three separate booklets with pages no more than 10-15 pages. After corrections are made, the Oral session will be held where the candidate to be quizzed orally on their knowledge; more or less a precursor to viva.
To pass the Comprehensive Exam (CE) is a requirement for UPM PhD candidate.
According to UPM, there are basically 5 stages of requirements for the PhD candidates to undertake prior to graduation:-
- The Proposal Defence;
- Comprehensive Exam (Written & Oral);
- Publish two articles in journals;
- Produce the full thesis;
- Presentation of the thesis (Viva).
So, I have passed both Proposal Defence (in my 3rd semester; REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2017/12/16/my-ph-d-proposal-defense-an-unarmed-academic-duelling-battlefield-the-self-discovery-of-my-own-strength-the-power-of-mothers-doa/) and now the Comprehensive Exam (in my 4th semester). People may think that it was just ‘an exam’ but only the UPM PhD graduate understand the struggle that I’ve went through just to make it work – especially since I am doing PhD while working.
McCroskey’s “An Introduction to Rhetorical Communication” is my bible.
I have been discussing the possibility of doing my CE with my Supervisor since late March after my 2nd Committee Members’ Meeting (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/my-22ndd-research-committee-members-meeting-the-phd-research-diverged-rhetorical-criticism-focus-group-discussion-approach-goodbye-angelina-jolie-hello-dr-mahathir/) dated 29th March 2018. Nevertheless after the meeting, my supervisor asked me to produce a new proposal on Dr. Mahathir. He gave me two weeks to produce the proposal and after I’ve shown the proposal, he asked me to do pre-analysis on Dr. Mahathir’s speeches. So, that alone consumed probably 5 weeks and to make matter more complicated, I was involved as the Election Clerk in my school on the 9th May; so that whole week was blocked out; and that was really tiring (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2018/05/15/malaysia-a-new-chaepter-the-historical-malaysian-14th-general-election-episode-1-fulfilling-duties-as-a-responsible-malaysian-postal-voting-the-voting-clerk/). In the mid of May, I met my supervisor again to negotiate the dates for my CE. He told me that I needed to assemble the three supervisors (my Committee Members) in one session for the 3rd Committee Members Meeting and only then, we could set the dates for my CE.
Juggling responsibility as Year 6 Class Teacher and teaching 2 core UPSR subjects (English & Science) while doing PhD is quite challenging. People may think being a primary school teacher is easy – in those days, maybe. But now, it’s all about TONNES of administrative/clerical documentations to be done. The two boys in the picture are my 6 Samudera pupils – Aiman (Malay) and Andry (Orang Asli). They are good kids; especially Andry- always come to my table when he sees I am so occupied with my PhD books – “Sir buat apa?” (What are you doing, Sir?).
So, I set the date for my 3rd Committee Members Meeting by asking my Supervisor’s PA and the other two supervisors. It was agreed that the meeting would be taking place on 6th of June 2018 at 10.00 a.m. Since it would be held on working day, I had to apply for Cuti Rehat Khas Guru (the 10 days per annum) from my Headmaster. My 2nd co-supervisor was doing a research abroad so she wouldn’t be there; therefore, the session would be attended by my Supervisor and my 1st co-Supervisor. On the 5th of June 2018 (a day prior to the meeting), I called my 1st co-Supervisor to remind her about the meeting on the next day (6th of June). Nevertheless, she probably forgot about it or her PA didn’t tell her (because I also called her PA after she gave consent for 6th of June) – she told me she couldn’t make it and I had to find another date! It was impossible for me to rearrange the schedule as I had already applied for the school leave and slotted the date to focus on my PhD affair because during that time, I also had to mark my pupils’ Mid Year Examination papers (approximately 200 sets of question papers)! In the end, she said she would send the questions to my Supervisor – so, I proceeded the 3rd Committee Members’ Meeting with my Supervisor. It was agreed on that day that my Written CE would be taking place on 21st June 2018 and I would have to submit the 3 answer booklets on the 28th June 2018.
The Written CE questions by my supervisors.
I had to cut short my Eid-Phuket trip with my family (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2018/06/21/thee-islamics-side-of-promiscuous-patong-a-monsoon-beach-life-discovering-the-malay-diaspora-phuket-thailand/) for the CE written exam. I flew back home on 20th June night and arrived at Fakulti Bahasa Moden dan Komunikasi, UPM at 9.00 a.m. on the 21st June 2018. My supervisor gave me the questions and I’ve to sign the acceptance letter. Like I said, the questions comprised of theory, method and rhetoric. The questions were tough and I have to say that I was confused but of course, I made the attempt to answer the questions. I was lucky because the school holiday was on 9th June-24th June and I could concentrate on my Written CE, for the first half of the 7 days. I submitted the answer booklets on the 28th June 2018 to my Main Supervisor and 1st co-Supervisor (an email to my 2nd co-supervisor).
One of my CE answers.
It took around a month before I was called back on 19th July 2018 (after the PACA Convention at Sabah; refer to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2018/07/12/suunn-sea-studyyy-sabahhh-my-virgin-communication-convention-12th-biennial-convention-of-paca-2018-universiti-malaysia-sabah-ums-the-spontaneous-island-experience-manukan-island/) . I thought it was going to be my Oral CE examination – so, I’ve requested Cuti Rehat Khas from my Headmaster to prepare for the session at 2.30 p.m. Turned out that it was a session catered to discuss the correction for my Written CE. I was given another 7 working days to submit the 3 answer booklets. So happened that my 1st co-Supervisor couldn’t make it on that day and had asked me to meet her personally at the office at 10.00 a.m. on the next day. Initially I thought of texting my 1st co-Supervisor to negotiate the time because I would have to WORK on the next day – but I thought that perhaps, her schedule must have conflicted and furthermore, I should not waste anymore time as the due date for Comprehensive Exam was approaching. So, with the THICK SKIN and awkwardness CAST ASIDE, I requested for another Cuti Rehat Khas via WhatsApps (which was informal!) from my Headmaster. I knew that my Headmaster was a bit hesitant but he gave me permission – NONETHELESS, it was I who felt emotional because I had to take another day off, leaving my gullible UPSR pupils as I thought leaving the school for merely ONE DAY on the 19th July would be sufficient – but no, I had to take ANOTHER DAY OFF. Sigh. Anyway, on the next day 20th July 2018, I went to see my 1st co-supervisor at her office at 10.00 a.m. and she explained my weaknesses that needed to be corrected.
Health deteriorated. This was a #TrueStory. The struggle is real. The thing that no one out there realized.
I submitted the correction of my CE answer booklets on the 26th July 2018 and 27th July 2018. Finally, my Oral CE session was decided on the 30th July 2018 at 2.30 p.m. at the faculty. Honestly, I was GRILLED by my supervisors and I am quite disheartened by my lack of confidence. Some of the questions/ remarks were :-
- Which process of reasoning did you use in the research? Deductive or inductive? Why? Can we use both approaches in the same analysis?;
- You don’t have to create two separate codebooks although you are attempting to study Dr. Mahathir’s speeches during and after his premiership;
- How sure are you that your criticism is rhetorical criticism and NOT rhetorical analysis?
- How do you mitigate bias in rhetorical criticism?
- Personally, would you suggest any rhetorician to apply Holsti’s Intercoder Reliabity formula?
- Can you name the Greek traditions that conceptualized rhetoric? How rhetoric was born in the Greek ages?
- Just name one MUST-READ rhetorical journal; a “bible” in your rhetorical criticism;
- Name other rhetorical criticism approach which you have encountered in your research, apart from the classic neo-Aristotelian.
- Why did you choose Mahathir as your artifact? Support your answers with legible citations.
The feedback from my 1st co-supervisor which I must pay heed. Actually I really appreciate her feedback because these are so on-points and at this PhD level, academic writing is not simply a “sophisticated cut and paste” but to synthesize from the various research findings! I’ve got so many things to improve.
The session went for an hour 30 minutes. I wasn’t confident and hesitated in my answers. That was because my knowledge was still far beneath and I was intimidated by the presence of these three “heavyweights”. Nevertheless, that was the reality. I HAVE to face this and would be forced to sing the same song again during the dreading viva, no? I was frustrated with myself that I did not perform well in the oral – I felt that I disappointed my supervisors; I wanted to impress them with my polished answers but it seemed like I am still way beneath from the expected level. Their remarks and comments were very on-points, meant to improve my research and I appreciate that immensely. My supervisors suggested that I should do the annotated bibliography and peruse the pros-and-cons between other approaches used in comparison to the classic neo-Aristotelian – and I am to present that to them in the upcoming session. I have to say that I was feeling VERY DISAPPOINTED with myself after the oral session – I’ve got a lot to improve (my methodology and my Q&A demeanour in oral session).
Hectic 4th semester but I managed to get an “A” for my Advanced Qualitative Exam! Alhamdulillah!
So you could imagine how ecstatic I was to find that I have PASSED the Comprehensive Exam!! I guess that my Written Exam compensated the flaws of my Oral Exam. And my supervisors actually wanted me to excel – I know that they want me to excel by pushing the envelope. I have this yearning that I badly want to get their approvals (which is a normal syndrome experienced by all PhD candidates, trust me!) and there is just no other way than to work harder than ever!
The result from the SGS Portal. Alhamdulillah! After all the thorns. Thanks to my three supervisors!
On whole, this 4th semester was very hectic (February 2018-June 2018). I have :-
- Nailed an “A” for my Advanced Qualitative Research Methodology exam;
- Attended my first Communication Convention at UMS, Sabah; and
- I passed my Comprehensive Exam!!!!
All these were juggled in the middle of the chaotic year being Year 6 class teacher AND teaching two UPSR subjects namely Science and English! I have to say that I am quite in awed (and grateful, Alhamdulillah!) that I survived this semester. But I’ve got so much to learn and to read on Rhetoric. Hopefully if I were to have the chance to wear the PhD regalia one day and read this, I would be smiling and gush on the challenges I have faced throughout this PhD journey. Amin.
It wasn’t easy but yes, Alhamdulillah!