Thursday, November 10, 2005

Comp Exam

Today I had the oral defense of my Ph.D. comprehensive exam answers. The committee sat down at the table, they looked at me, I looked at them, and I said, "Okay, what questions do you have for me?" The looked at each other and finally one member said, "Well, honestly, we don't have any questions. Your writing was very clear, the organization was very convincing, and we were able to follow all of it. There's really nothing else to ask you." They looked at each other again, and the committee chair said, "Well, congratulations, you passed."

Let me just say, it's good to be a writer.

Our ability to write, to convey meaning in print, doesn't just apply to fiction. Because I've taken the time to develop the skills of a writer, I was able to write a 25-page paper that was clear as well as convincing. So much so, that the committee literally ran out of things to ask me! It was the easiest oral exam I've ever taken!

I firmly believe that writing -- all writing -- is nothing more than persuasion. Your job is to convince your reader of your Controlling Idea. Just preaching it to them isn't convincing -- and that's why sermons make poor fiction. My comp exam was not fiction, but I was still tasked with conveying my Controlling Idea (which is this case was related to science education) through my arguments. Instead of dialog, I used carefully arranged research, but the effect is the same. One of the committee members commented that most grad students hate to write. I think that's true, but I think it's because they've never learned the craft.

Don't ever let anyone denigrate your writing ability -- it's a Ph.D-level skill!

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