Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Organizing thoughts

There are two big job-related goals for me this semester - dissertation proposal and comprehensive exams (comps). If I pass both, I officially become a "PhD Candidate" and move into the dissertation stage.

I'm wondering if any of you can offer advice on the comps thing based on your old classes and law degrees and such. Here's how comps in my department work:

I put together a dissertation committee and choose three sub-fields of linguistics that will be my comps areas. (Language acquisition, intonation, and psycholinguistics for me). For each area, I make a reading list, usually about a 3 page reference list for each, making nine pages of references. My committee reviews the list and then suggests changes. Since a single line could be a several hundred page book, I will end up with a few thousand pages of academic text to read.

The goal then is to read these few thousand pages over the next two months. Then in November, I will declare myself ready and the committee gives me questions to answer about each area. I then have two weeks to do written responses to each. I think people usually write about 20 pages for each topic. At the end of the two weeks, I turn my answers in and then a couple weeks after that I defend them.

What I am looking for are creative ideas on note-taking and organization of all this stuff. It seems like the key to doing this successfully is to only have to read the stuff completely once. After that, I need to be able to find details quickly so that I can write my answer papers in just about 4 days each. (They are clearly 'open book'.) Any thoughts on doing this?

I can't just underline things as many of the books are library books. I tried to make a table once of some literature I was reviewing, but I didn't find that particularly helpful in the end for finding stuff. It did make me have to dig through papers in some detail to fill in all the rows and columns. If I didn't do a table, I could just take notes, and end up with some 50 pages of notes to scroll through, which isn't great but clearly better than several thousand to scroll through. A possibly nice idea is a set of simple web pages that let's me have, say, a list of main findings for each paper, with links to, say, methodology, results summary, and problems... or something. This could be very cool, but I also don't want to spend all the time I should be reading working on my web site.

Any suggestions? How did you get organized to pass your senior thesis or the bar?


Haem said...

If you're thinking of using websites, try TiddlyWiki or GTDTiddlyWiki. (GTD = GetThingsDone)
And here is a lengthy discussion on using TiddlyWiki.

Ello said...

I am a huge fan of outlines. In law school we made outlines. For my contracts class I had a 150 page outline! First off, putting the outline together helps you memorize. Then the actual outline itself becomes a great study tool, one that supplants your notes, textbooks, etc. It should be well organized with its topics and headings and with enough detail to give a thorough answer. Furthermore, I would also do a cheat sheet outline which was the outline minus all the details. Topics, headings, brief answers - no detail. The short outline is easy to put together once the long one is complete, obviously, and really worth it. Putting together the outline can be frustrating at first but honestly it can't be beat as an organizational and study tool.

Good luck to you!

OH and I know you are busy but I thought you might have missed this. NAthan Bransford is having a first line contest with a manuscript review as a prize. If you have a chance you should shoot a few first liners over there. It ends Wednesday.

J said...

When I studied for the bar, I made hundreds of note cards, organized by topic by different colors of note cards.

I carried a stack of them everywhere. I studied in line at the grocery store, at long red lights, and even when T had a graduation ceremony.

I'd make it a fill in the blank note card, usually. So, on one side I'd have "Battery is H____ or O___ ______" and on the other side it would say "harmful or offensive contact."

I made my note cards from outlines.

Good luck!