I’m not sure how we got here, but it’s the end of October. I’m finally coming out of my report writing hole to take a breather! Since the end of my first year of my art history MA in April, I’ve been working at my readings and drafting my report for my Qualifying Examination. Basically, I’ve been chugging away throughout the circuit breaker (from April to June) and into the August semester… Trying to work during CB felt nearly impossible at times, and I think it did slow down my progress. I’d say that my preparation took about 4 months, though you could also say that the research is always ongoing and never stops…
On that cover picture: I was finalising edits of my QE report at the very lovely Little House of Dreams café in Tiong Bahru post-circuit breaker, when I could finally work outside of home! That’s the title page on my laptop, and I’d definitely like to share more about my research soon!
So what is this Qualifying Examination? Different programmes might have another term for it, but the purpose of this exam is similar across the board. For MA (Research) / PhD programmes, the qualifying examination is held after the completion of courses. There’s a written component in the form of a report, and an oral component in the form of a presentation. It’s a means for determining your progress in your research, or just to determine if you are fit enough to keep going — like ‘passing probation’, if you will! At NTU, where I’m doing my MA (Research) programme in Art History at ADM, the Qualifying Examination is held a year in. That’s what was happening with me in early September.
I have to say — writing the report was hard. It appears straightforward: it includes a listing of your literature review, aims and objectives, methodologies, chapter outline, bibliography, etc. (to sum up the main sections). Sometimes I feel like I can envision my actual, final thesis — certain points I want to make; specific images and comparisons I want to look at. But suddenly, when I was forced to think about my methodology and chapter titles, I realised that I hadn’t given a thought to it at all! I suppose in research, you always feel the initial need to build up a big, wide topic to show that you have something important to study, then you begin working on it and have to break it down again to the specifics. I struggled with writing my literature review, methodology and outline of chapters — which pretty much makes up the whole report! After multiple drafts and lots of random googling (like what’s the difference between aims and objectives??), things somehow miraculously came together. I’m now glad I have a working structure of how the whole thesis is going to look like!
In a normal world, the presentation of the QE is always held in person. With this ‘new normal’ though, I had my exam over Microsoft Teams — which I was not expecting! Funny to think that I didn’t even know how to use Teams until May this year, and it’s now become somewhat familiar (I prefer it to Zoom).
I’ve seen so many articles and posts where people say that they hate having virtual meetings, and I’m definitely in that group of people who dislike meeting virtually, much less for an exam! While presenting, it felt like I was talking to myself (especially as everyone else had turned off their cameras), and I had to keep reminding myself that people were still watching and listening! It feels strange not to see people’s reactions as you’re presenting — your education has trained you to present in front of people, but when that’s taken away in a virtual space, it feels like a whole other ball game.
Though on the flip side, the advantage of presenting virtually is having more privacy — after all, everyone only sees your head and shoulders on screen, and I could have my notes scattered everywhere around me without anyone seeing it, haha! I could hang up on my Teams call after my presentation and immediately slump over and breathe a big sigh of relief.
In any case, I’m happy to say that I passed! Now, having had time to process what has happened, I’m glad to have had this experience. It’s a good opportunity to present my research, a clear way to see how my research has developed, and to hear the ideas, feedback, or perspectives that others (i.e. the examiners) bring to the table. It’s also a major milestone to clear, and completing it comes with a sense of accomplishment. These little moments are really much needed along the path of graduate school, especially when things get busy, difficult and overwhelming. Yet at the same time, I’m realising that I’m becoming more of a nerd, and I’m enjoying my research! All the work though — it’s time to get back to it…