Academic marathon

As part of every Ph.D. there comes a time when your superiors decide to test your knowledge in order to ensure that you’re academic material. In my case, these are tests called general examinations, consisting of 3 written and one oral examination. Today I’m taking the first written one, a 24 hour essay marathon on the topic of Social Networks.

The test was supposed to begin at 10am, but as these things usually turn out, I’m sitting here waiting for my professor to send me the questions. I think the closest analog would be a marathon runner waiting for the gun, giddy with excitement, ignoring the pain and anguish that surely lies ahead, and of course focused on the relief that will come when the race is over. Of course I’ve never run a marathon, but I’m sure it’s probably the same feeling.

The NYC Marathon introduced a new technology recently, a tracking device that allows the organizers to make sure people stay on course, and remote spectators to keep track of their friends and favorite runners. I thought I’d do the same for my test of endurance. Stay tuned for updates on the experience:

8:30am: Up and ready for the battle, 800 pages of literature organized and neatly laid out for quick access.

9:30am: Jitters gone, two cups of coffee ingested, and waiting for the gun. A little bit of pre-marathon blogging to keep the chops up.

10am: Waiting…

10:45am: Sent an email to make sure that we’re still on.

11:08am: Word from professor: test is coming momentarily.

11:17am: Got the test over email. Two parts, each with two questions, one must be answered from each. The first part covers either social capital or diffusion of information, the second asks for either a literature review on “Online communitites as social networks” or designing a study to retest Milgram’s small-worlds hypthosis.

11:28am: Chose my questions. I’ll be taking on social capital and changes to Milgram’s original hypothesis.

1:07pm: I just finished an initial literature review, and created some basic structure for both questions. I was feeling a bit stressed and distracted when I realized that I had been staring at a computer screen in complete silence for 1.5 hours. Add Swazak to the mix and things are calmer and more organized.

7:26pm: Ok, that took longer than I thought 🙂 Finished a rough draft for the first question, break for dinner, then start the second. The first answer is roughly 2500 words, and needs quite a bit of fine tuning.

8:00pm: Finished my yummy risotto, now time to recoup. I just introduced a second pot of coffee into the equation.

11:50pm: As expected, the second question flowed much more naturally. It should be fine with some minor revisions. Since it’s an Internet-meets-social-networks question, of course I need the internet to answer it 🙂

1:14am: Ahh, finally the first draft of the second paper is done. Actually, this one came right on schedule. A little over 2600 words, I’m confident that it’s pretty strong (I even included some last minute research on instant messaging). I think there’s time for a quick bath and some much-needed sleep before I begin the revisions. Somehow blogging this entire experience has made it much more beareable.. I’m simultaneously freaking out, watching myself freak out, and writing about it. Blog therapy.

7:02am: Mmm.. social capital dreams… my favorite! Up and at ’em.

9:32am: It’s the final stretch.. I’m on my second, third, or fourth wind, and it seems like things are coming together. But wait until you see my apartment (definitely not together).

10:54am: Done! Exam submitted.

Total time: 23:37 minutes, 18:50 minutes spent writing. Just over 5100 words. That’s roughly one completely edited and intentional word every 10 seconds. Not bad 🙂

Erdös said “Mathematicians are machines for turning coffee into theorems,” and someone else the lesser known corollary, “Computer Scientists are machines for turning coffee into urine.” Well it appears that social network researchers are machines for turning coffee into a hell of a lot of words. Amen. Now I return to bed.

5 thoughts on “Academic marathon

  1. Put the smack down like Stevinus:

    “Stevinus was somewhat dogmatic in his statements, and allowed no one to differ from his conclusions, ‘and those,’ says he, in one place, ‘who cannot see this, may the Author of nature have pity upon their unfortunate eyes, for the fault is not in the thing, but in the sight which we are unable to give them.'” – W.W. Rouse Ball

  2. congratulations!

    perhaps i’ve been absent for academia for too long and have forgotten some obscure release rule – but how come we don’t get to see your essay answers?

  3. It’s a shame the instant messaging section was saved for last minute research, seeing as that’s the bit that everyone (well, almost everyone) uses.

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