A couple weeks ago I passed my second qualifying exam, also known as the second doctoral exam. In my Ph.D. program, these consist of a 20 page literature review presenting an in depth critique of at least 10 research articles. Aside from the support of my advisor, Colette Daiute, and my second reader, Joe Glick, the most important person in this process was someone I have never met, Paul J. Silvia author of How to Write a Lot.
Three critical recommendations from Silvia were as follows:
Make a writing schedule and stick to it.
For me the schedule was M, W, Fri from 1-3pm. Silvia says his schedule is M – Fri 8-10am. I called this time my ‘meeting time’ and reserved it for writing and reading related literature. Silvia suggests turning off your phone and even the Internet (gasp!) during this time. Furthermore, plan appointments and extracurricular activities around this time, as you would if you were actually meeting someone.
Write out specific goals.
For example, early on my goal for one writing time would be to read an article and write a rough draft of a critique. Later in the process the goal for a writing time might have been to revise the method section.
This was my favorite piece of advice from Silvia. For my reward on completing the exam I bought a fun used bike (check out my next post for details!).
How to Write a Lot is about 150 pages, but I think I gleaned the most valuable information after about the first 50. I still refer back to this book even though I’m done with the exam and there’s likely more great insights to gain.
I think many academics and certainly anyone working on the qualifying exams would be wise to read Silvia’s book. Even if you don’t read it – at least take these three pieces of advice: Make a writing schedule, write specific goals each week, and reward yourself!
Finally, thanks to my fellow ITP’ers Ashley and Michelle who recommended this resource!