Tuesday, November 13, 2012

PhD lingo to know

Friday I attended the dissertation defense of one of my colleagues. While I was there my advisor told me I'll be doing my supervised pedagogical experience this spring while I TA for 'Old Testament Theology' and finish my remaining coursework. This means in 6 months I will (Lord willing) be ABD, and cleared to write my final chapter(s)! Next fall I'll do nothing but Precept and finalize my dissertation. I'm hoping to turn in my defense draft in the early Spring of 2014, after which I'll have 45 days to finish my Comprehensive Reading and study the work of my external reader while I await my defense. Feeling lost yet?? For the benefit of family and friends who care about this crazy journey we're on but have no idea what I'm talking about, let me break it down:

Dr. Daniel Block, my doctoral advisor
Advisor/Supervisor/Doktorvater/Mentor: This is the professor who directly supervises my work while I'm at Wheaton (i.e. Dr. Daniel Block). He helps me plan my coursework, reads my papers, and is responsible to ensure that my dissertation is defensible in the end. At Wheaton our supervisor is also our first reader.

Coursework: These are the classes we're required to take (I'll take my final 8 credits in the spring).

Pedagogical Experience: "Pedagogy" means "teaching." (I'll be co-teaching a course on Deuteronomy with Dr. Block and my colleague, Austin—a.k.a. 'brother Blockhead').

Precepting: This is similar to pedagogical experience. The doctoral student works under a professor in a required Freshman class called "Gospel, Church, and Culture," leading weekly discussion groups and grading assignments. In exchange for this work, the student receives a fellowship.

Fellowship/Stipend: A scholarship given to students above and beyond the full tuition scholarship that compensates for hours spent as a TA, research assistant, or preceptor. So far I've worked as Dr. Block's assistant each semester, but in the fall I expect to be Precepting.

TA (Teaching Assistant): Usually involves grading and record-keeping for a course taught by a professor

Research Assistant: Similar to TA work, but not connected to a particular class. The professor assigns editing or research projects, or other administrative work.

ABD ("All But Dissertation"): At most schools this means a student has completed coursework and comprehensive reading, and is cleared to write a dissertation proposal. Wheaton has a concurrent model, so we are taking classes, reading from the Comprehensive reading list, and writing our dissertation all at once. Here we are ABD when our coursework is complete. By that time we are well into our reading and have started our dissertation.

Comprehensive Reading ("Comps"): A list of books we are required to read before we graduate. Wheaton's Old Testament list contains 35 books we must read and review carefully, 91 books we must read partially, 46 books we should be familiar with, and 46 reference works we should know how to use. We must also skim 10 years' worth of the major journals in our field. Yep, it's a lot, but it helps to broaden our knowledge of the field beyond our dissertation topic. Call me crazy, but I'm loving this part.

Dissertation: This is the major (300-page) research paper doctoral students must write to prove their scholarly capabilities (I'm nearing the 1/3 mark on mine!).

Dissertation Topic: This is what I'm writing about (in my case, the Name Command of the Decalogue).

Dissertation Proposal: A 10-page paper showing why a dissertation needs to be written 

Proposal Defense: An oral presentation to the faculty inviting their critique of my topic, after which the student is cleared to begin writing (mine was April 11, 2012)

Danny and the kids surprised me
when I turned in my first chapter.
They all dressed up and escorted me
home for an amazing 3-course dinner!
Chapter: When I talk about writing a "chapter," I'm referring to a chapter of my dissertation. I've written one, and I'm working on my second (of 4).

Defense Draft: This is the "final" copy of my dissertation that I'll turn in 45 before my oral defense. I'll turn in 4 copies: one for my supervisor, one for my second reader, one for my external examiner, and one for the PhD seminar room so that other students and faculty can read it before my defense.

First Reader: At Wheaton our supervisor performs this role, reading each chapter as we write it and then the whole dissertation when we're through. They help us make sure it's ready to defend.

Second Reader: This is another faculty member from Wheaton College who reads and critiques the dissertation. Usually they read at least parts of the dissertation as it is written and then the whole thing at the end (mine is Dr. Karen Jobes).

External Reader/Examiner: This is a professor from another institution, an expert on the dissertation topic whose identity is kept a secret until the defense draft is turned in. They travel to Wheaton for the oral defense and critique anything and everything.

Dissertation Defense/ Oral Defense: The student and his or her work goes "on trial" before the second and external readers, and a defense chair (another Wheaton professor), while the rest of the PhD students and faculty observe. The work is either failed (rarely) or passed, with or without required revisions. This is the culmination of years' worth of work, and a highly stressful and uncomfortable experience. Not for the faint of heart!

Technical Reader: After any required revisions are made, the dissertation is then given to the technical reader, who goes over it with a fine-toothed comb to find any errors of spelling, grammar, or style before the dissertation is bound and printed for the library and the student is cleared to graduate.

After I complete all these steps, students can call me "Dr. Imes." It's an intense journey, and a blessed one. I'm so grateful to those who provided funds for my scholarship and stipend so that I can be here, and I'm thrilled to have a partner like Danny who is committed to seeing me through this program. Even the kids are cheering me on. What a great blessing that is!


  1. Carmen, excellent post! Should be required reading for all prospective doctoral students. You laid out the process and explained the lingo so clearly. I posted this on FB. :)

  2. It would be good to know the words that people might encounter on grad school so that they wouldn’t feel lost. And this post would certainly help them know a thing or two about them. I think knowing what the terms are if the first battle you must fight in order to complete the phd dissertation format. Anyway, how’s your paper? I do hope it is doing well.

  3. Thanks, Maggie!

    Marie, Thanks for asking. My research and writing are going well. I'm almost 75% done with my first draft!