Don’t Do a PhD Unless You Want to Do a PhD

The Incompetent Writer

From time to time, people contact me and ask what it’s like to be doing a PhD in Creative Writing. During those conversations, I will usually ask a question of my own: why they’re interested in the PhD, what they hope to get out of it. Often, the answers I hear make me kind of nervous.

To explain why: today is Friday, February 6. At noon, my third and final Comprehensive Exam begins.

Here at the University of Tennessee, each Comprehensive Exam is a 72-hour test, requiring the student to choose four questions to answer (from a list of six to eight) and write about 1,500 words answering each. It’s 6,000 words of scholarly writing, plus citations etc, over three continuous days.

I’ve been preparing for this exam, on and off, since early October, when I met my advisor, the brilliant Michael Knight, and we agreed on a rationale…

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