Well, I've gone and done it. I've taken my comprehensive exams - written and oral - and as of yesterday, I have managed to go ABD (all but dissertation) in my PhD program. I am a newly-minted late doctoral student!! This means that, if all goes well and according to the plan I have laid out, I will be Dr. Laura Perry in May 2011.
I cannot begin to describe the relief I am feeling at this point. I am done doing work which is completely and utterly outside of my field of study (I hope). From now on, I will, if all works out, be able to work entirely in American History and Geographic Information Systems; I am done with coursework and am on to the dissertation. Most of us look forward to this moment for the entire course of study - this means we have basically gained the confidence of our mentors and are ready to move on to the whole reason we entered PhD work to begin with - our own work. What interests us. What we hope will interest other people enough to hire us in the future (and gain us book contracts, and etc.)
The next step? The prospectus... the delivery of the tentative dissertation title, thesis, outline, major works cited, and plan of attack... to the department. Then, after approval, CHARGE! In my case, I have already been working on the dissertation in parts for some time, so the prospectus should, in many ways (not all) be boiler plate. And, I already gave a basic prospectus this summer as part of my program in Michigan. This is a very, very good thing (thank you, Margo!).
Then, the grunt work of researching and writing. But this is the work I love. While I am allergic to book dust and mold (What on earth? I am a historian after all! How unfair!) this is my very favorite part. Well, I also love the writing, too. But, I love the uncovering of sources... it's just like a miner must feel... except that every scrap of paper holds something, even if it is not relevant to *my* topic. It is interesting on its own merits; I am always learning more and more just by thumbing through. EVERYTHING is educational, even if it is not going to inform my topic.
In the midst of this, I am writing a paper to take with me to Ghent, Belgium. I have it in rough form now, but it needs revision and work over break - and it is a major part of my dissertation. I'll be busy with it for several weeks in December and January. There will be some accelerated research in there so I can get a paper submitted quickly. Revisions can come later, but they need the paper in-hand soon.
After a year of researching and writing (in my case), I will pull together my dissertation into a strong rough draft - chapters will already have been circulated and (I HOPE) approved piece by piece in the interim... but the whole should begin to really pull together this time next year or a little later. I plan do defend in the early spring and graduate in May... this is a VERY tight schedule, but without any other major distractions, I think I can do it. I don't have children, and I do have the ability to sit here and focus. And I have supportive, confident friends. This is so key.
Anyway, this is the basic outline to my plan. I have most of my major data already pulled together and in-house - the advantage of already working on it in pieces for three and a half years. I still have quite a bit of reading and research to go; I have accumulated a lot of data and materials, but much of it is as yet unread, or not thoroughly analyzed. It's going to take a lot of time and focus. BUT, the big advantage is that I have it here. Right here. In house. I don't have to leave and run to archives all over the United States all the time to get the data (and THANK GOODNESS for Google Books!!). There are two major archives I have yet to visit, yes, but one is within the state, and the other can wait for next year - if it is needed at all (I may be able to omit it - I don't know).
The next step. Well, we'll take it as it comes. For now, I am focusing on the PhD. That's it.
But hallelujah. The dang comps are over and today is the start of a new leaf in my life's book. Onward and upward! The dissertation awaits!