Category Archives: Ravynn

5 Steps to Prep and Study for Comps

In a recent post, I detailed the next part of my PhD journey after finishing coursework: Comprehensive Exams, better known as Comps. The post described what Comps are, what their purpose is, and how to create lists for them. Now that I have my lists, a few people have asked me to describe how I am preparing and studying for the exams, so here’s a step-by-step guide to my process.

Step 1: Get organized.

I’m pretty sure this is the number one step for most of my how-to guides when it comes to graduate school. For some people, just having the lists is enough. I need more.

One of the first things I did was create an Excel spreadsheet that has the title and author of the text, along with some other pertinent information. What else you choose to include is up to you, but I included: whether or not I had read the material; read it but not recently; whether I had reread it; whether I owned it, needed to get it from the library, or could get it online; if I needed to Interlibrary Loan (ILL) it, or whether I wanted to buy it for my personal collection; and a separate section for notes.

Having the Excel sheet setup like this helps me see at a glance what I need to read, how I need to obtain the text and gives me an opportunity to write down any additional notes.

Step 2: Plan it!

I admittedly do not have an intricate plan for the order in which I’m reading things, at least not right now. Because I’m starting early, I’m mostly choosing things off of my lists that I wanted to read anyway for fun.

Once I’m in the thick of reading (i.e. when I’m doing nothing but comps), I will do another post about how I’ve planned out my readings. As of right now, my goal has been to read 1-3 books per week.

Step 3: Read!

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I try my very best not to overwhelm myself with reading, especially during the summer when I’m supposed to be relaxing. As always, I read in small chunks, either one chapter at a time for academic texts, or in intervals of 25 pages for novels and comics/graphic novels, making sure to take breaks in between each section. I spend the most time on the introduction and conclusion, making sure to highlight or underline the author’s thesis, the goals of the text, the evidence they will use and their methodology. I try to spend no more than 30 minutes per chapter, unless the chapter is particularly pertinent to my own research interests.

For novels and graphic novels, I try to simply enjoy reading them, because it was, after all, my love of them that got me into graduate school in the first place.

Step 4: Take notes

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In addition to the Excel sheet, I also keep a physical journal where I take notes on the texts that I am reading. My process for note taking varies by the type of text I am engaging with but here are the key subjects I hit during my note taking:

  • For novels and short stories, I read the entire text, highlight and underline key passages to my heart’s content. Once I’m done, I provide a brief summary, pull out themes and motifs from the text, note fast facts like the date published and etc, write down main characters and then my thoughts and questions. I like to use the “thoughts” section to synthesize and make connections between the current text and any others that I have read. For example, when reading The Bluest Eye, I used this section to make connections between Maureen, Pecola and tragic mulatto narratives that I read in my Interracialism class.
  • For comics and graphic novels, I like to note keywords, themes, and visual and/or verbal motifs. I have a “thoughts and questions” section for things that troubled me during my reading, as well as things to bring up during Comps meetings with my faculty members.
  • For academic texts/non-fiction, I cite the main argument, the goals of the text, evidence used, and methodology with a brief descriptive summary of the text. If I can discern it, I like to note the scholarly lineage of the text, which is to say which other scholars is the text in conversation with, and from where does it draw its secondary sources. I also have a section to discuss ways in which the text may be of service to my own scholarly work. (Where does my scholarship fit?)

Step 5: Decompress!

Be sure to give yourself time in between texts to take care of yourself. Reach out to your friends, go to the gym, eat a good meal. You will spend a lot of time with just you and your thoughts, but don’t let it consume you.


So there you have it: a step-by-step guide to preparing and studying for Comps. As the year progresses, I’ll have even more detailed guides to prepping for the big exams, but this is how I’ve been doing it thus far. I hope at least some of this was helpful to you. Happy reading!

The Finale of Part 1: Graduation

For those of you who have been following along, you know that I am a PhD student at William & Mary. You might also know that I have recently graduated from William & Mary. For clarification, I was accepted into a MA/PhD program in American Studies, and last September I successfully defended my Masters thesis, thus officially moving me into the PhD portion of my program. Because it’s a rolling program, I defended and kept moving forward in my PhD work, moving through coursework and preparing my comprehensive exams lists– I was so busy that I barely got a chance to truly celebrate getting my Masters.

Until this past weekend.

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My Uncle Edwin and I

I participated in Commencement here at William & Mary and it was a truly magnificent occasion. My uncles drove up from Jacksonville for the graduation and spent the entire weekend with me and my family. My uncles, my parents, my grandma, my great-aunt and my aunt all celebrated me by coming to my ceremonies and going out to celebratory dinners and lunches with me for three days straight.

The festivity of the three day Commencement weekend was Donning of the Kente. This tradition was primarily meant for African American graduating students and a chance for the Black community to celebrate its graduates together, though our ceremony is open to anyone who wants to participate. Because it was a Lemon Project event, I spent most of my time before hand checking people in and handing out stoles. However, when it was time for the ceremony to begin, I was able to participate with everyone else. It was fantastic. When it was my turn, I went on stage to applause and my parents donned me with a kente stole. We took a picture and then we returned to our seats and watched as the rest of the students were donned. Though you are only allowed up to two people to don you, some students appeared on stage with their entire families. Grandmothers cried, children of the graduates cheered, many thanked God as they left the stage and others took selfies as they marched across.

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Me after Donning of the Kente

Afterwards, we had a big family dinner at Ruby Tuesdays and then everyone their separate ways for the big ceremony the next day.

Everyone congregated at my apartment around 7 AM Saturday morning in preparation for the outdoors ceremony to be held in Zable Stadium. Thanks to the ceremony being held on the football field, I was able to invite 7 guests instead of 4. However, let me stress that the ceremony was outdoors– in 90 degree weather. While it was a beautiful day (comparatively, my UVA ceremony was held outdoors in light rain) it was still sweltering underneath the mandatory ceremonial garb we had all donned for the occasion.

I marched in with the other Masters and JD students to the William & Mary hymn. Two surprises awaited me as I went to take my seat– first, I was able to spot my family amid the massive crowd. They had managed to find incredible seats near the front. Their seats were perpendicular to my own, which was incredibly, in the front, near the middle and directly in front of the stage, next to two other American Studies masters students. As the rest of the graduating class filed in, I waved at my family wildly, amazed that we could see each other and spent the rest of my time taking in the massive book-like program that had been made in honor of the occasion.

The ceremony was about two hours long and very traditional– the President of the University gave remarks, awards were given out, and senator Mark Warner gave the keynote address, advising students to stay involved in our democracy, not be afraid of failure and to, most of all, call your mother. There were however a few highlights: the President gave honorary doctorates of letters to the first three residential African American students at William & Mary, Lynn Briley, Janet Brown Strafer, and Karen Ely. An honorary doctorate was also given to Katherine Johnson, one of the first computers for NASA (you know, the one Taraji played in Hidden Figures? Yup, her.)

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Me with my 9th grade IB Coordinator Micah Smith

And after all of that was over, degrees were conferred. The most amazing part was watching people that I knew walk across the stage and receive their doctorates. I actually knew a lot of people graduating: James, who has been like an older brother to me in this program, walked across the stage; my dear friend, Sarah, who worked with my on the Lemon Project; Renee, Nabeel, and Janine, all American Studies graduate students; my friend Patrick from Anthropology; Beth from History; and incredibly, the woman who worked with my 9th grade class of International Baccalaureate students as our Coordinator. She was so beloved that we fought to keep her, only to eventually lose her to a more stable position in Newport News. Though she left, she kept up with my class, meeting up with us for dinner upon occasion and sending love and well wishes whenever she could. Running into her on her graduation day nearly sent me into a bout of tears.

Finally, we were dismissed from the heat and I was able to reunite with my family for pictures. We eventually made it back to my apartment for quick naps before heading out for a late lunch at Red Lobster.

My parents came up one last time on Sunday, which also happened to be Mother’s Day, for my American Studies Departmental ceremony. It was short, sweet and to the point, the highlight of which was receiving flowers from my friend, Kelsey. We ended the day by heading to Wakefield, where my parents grew up, for a barbecue at my grandmother’s and to spend some time with my great Aunt.

I woke up this morning, groggy and still a little tired from all the excitement, only to find one last surprise. I checked my grades and saw that all of them were in, and I had managed a 4.0 this semester. Yup, I got an A in my Comics class, my Histories of Race class and my Black Arts Movement Directed Research. I’m actually really proud of the work I did for all of these classes. For Comics, I wrote a tribute to Lois Lane adaptations in the last 10 years that I’m considering getting published. For my Black Arts Movement class, I wrote “Beneatha Younger’s Afro,” which attempted to modernize a classic character and discuss how she is politically relevant today. And for my Histories of Race class? I still can’t say what I did for that class because this might actually turn into a huge project for me– things are still unfolding, but just know this paper might be the first time you see Ravynn K. Stringfield’s name in print.

Now everything is over. My family has gone back to the regularly scheduled lives, I can stop holding my breath while I wait for grades to come in, and I can lay in bed watching Netflix all day for days at a time if I want to. Knowing myself, however, I know that will only last a few days before I’m back at the grind, working on comps lists and planning my research trip to the Schomburg Center. Side note, I applied for research money for the first time and received about a third of what I applied for, but if I stay with a friend, I should still be able to make the trip. (I will, of course, post about the trip when I make it, not to worry.) I also have a stack of books that I’ve been dying to dig into and art that I need to make, so I have some good, relaxing plans for the summer. I just hope that I can get it together and make it through one last semester of coursework. Then, onto my next adventure: Comps.

Stay tuned, guys, you won’t want to miss what’s next.

 

Week 15, or Finding Your Tribe

I think the primary reason I have yet to leave grad school is because I am so close to my support systems.

I have two really good sets: my parents and my UVA family, which consists mostly of the students I did the Black Monologues with my fourth year as well as the Dean and her administrative assistant that got me through my time there. My parents are an hour away and my UVA family is two hours away.

That’s how I spent my first weekend post-classes, split between Suffolk and Charlottesville.

My professor offered me an extension on a paper that was originally due on Friday but I didn’t take it because I knew that I was gearing up for one hell of a weekend. And I was not disappointed.

My soul sister, Micah, (whose post you should read if you already haven’t) was commissioned to write a full length play for the drama department at UVA. As soon as I knew that had happened, I asked for dates, knowing full and well the only place I’d be that weekend was in Charlottesville. I read a draft of the play, which she titled Canaan, followed her casting decisions, and waited.

As it turned out, everyone that she had cast had also taken part in the Black Monologues, the show that I had stage managed in 2015. (Plus Roberto, who did it in 2016 but I count him as one of my babies.) I reread the show in their voices. I waited.

Then, finally, classes were over and I could plan my trip to Charlottesville to see my loved ones. I made sure to go prepared. I created fan signs for all of them because I wanted a way to show my love and affection for each and every one of them. So I carried all six signs with me on my way into the theater, with my dear friend Caroline in tow.

Before the show, I snuck backstage to surprise everyone and was greeted with gasps and big hugs. I had never felt more loved.

Then Micah’s family arrived. I hugged her parents and her sister and was introduced to her cousins as Mrs. Watson’s “Extra Daughter” for the afternoon. My heart swelled. I sat in the middle of the row of Watsons and next to Micah’s sister while I watched the show. We laughed, we cried, some times we responded to events on stage, sometimes we could only watch in stunned silence. I couldn’t help but become overwhelmed with emotion watching Jordan on stage, knowing how far he had come. Taylor made me want to join the revolution; I’d follow that girl anywhere. B brought her Southern charm and sass to church girl, Lisa Sawyer. Roberto made me love and hate Eddie all at the same time. And I laughed at Madison’s slapstick humor and gossiping nature as Ms. Wilma, but felt moved by her more meaningful scenes.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to put into words how astonishing it was to see the same group of young adults I stage managed nearly three years ago grow into such accomplished, talented and amazing people.

All I know is that they are my tribe.

I found them late in my career; I basically had one foot out the door when I came to Black Monologues my fourth year at UVA. Ever since that experience, however, every time I have come back to UVA has been for that group of students. They are my heart. This was the last time I’m sure I’m going to get to see many of them in the same place for a long while because they are all graduating next month.

Their art sustains me, it breathes life into me, it helps me carry on.

This was the perfect way to end my semester, getting a jolt of love from those I love the most.

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Me and Micah Watson, the author of Canaan