The Bib.

Posted by on Jul 19, 2009 in Dirt, Research and Engagement | 2 Comments

Since sometime last fall, I have been working on a variety of projects…however, the one that is most important, the one that I need to complete in order to continue on in my pursuit of my PhD, is one of the most dreaded parts of my graduate program:


This is not something you tie around your neck to keep from dribbling on your new shirt. That’s a practical piece of equipment. The Bib, to any graduate student in MSU’s department of Anthropology, should be considered an implement of torture. It is prolonged agony, disguised as two 75-source bibliographies on a topic and geographic region of your choice. It should be illegal.

First, let me state a couple of things: I am in the midst of writing my bibs, so (if any professors on my committee are reading this) I completely understand the importance of the Bib. It provides you with excellent experience in researching a topic and region. It broadens your literature background in topics that are relative to your interests. Once completed, it is a major accomplishment and you get a justified week long vacation at the local watering hole of your choice. That is, after you pass the Comprehensive exam and oral defense that you have to take about the Bibs you wrote.

Yeah, that’s right: the Bib is not the finished product. In actuality, you are simply compiling the sources that you are going to be tested on. At first, this seems like a pretty sweet deal: wait, you’re saying I get to pick the stuff that my comprehensive exam is going to be about? Awesome!!

But wait…isn’t that kind of cruel? That’s like getting to choose which weapon you’re going to be killed with. How would you like to be tortured today? World Systems Theory? Settlement Pattern Theory?

I chose Power, Gender and Class. I’ve been working on this Bib since January. I just finished it today, and I (for some reason) think I will be able to finish my Geographical Bib by the end of August. I have most of the stuff read…but t is the writing process that is so painful, since it is unlike no paper I have ever written. Instead of being annotated, it is a 20-some page document organizing the sources in some way that justifies your selection of them, and you get about a sentence per source to do that. I’ll be honest: it’s hard. What makes it so hard is that there are so many different ways to organize these things. I have gone through many iterations of my topical bib, and I am still not entirely sure if I have chosen the best route.

But what makes it even more difficult to finish is the knowledge that, on the other side of the Bib, is your comprehensive exam. After you turn in your Bibs, your committee reads them, then gets together to craft the most difficult question they can possibly contrive about your topics. Then, they lock you in a dark room for 8 hours with a computer and a copy of your Bibs, and you write. Then you defend your answers. It’s not a really exciting prospect, and certainly not conducive to finishing your Bibs, knowing that that just means you get to enter the next step of misery and pain.

I keep telling myself that people pass their exams every day. That no one I know has not passed their bibs. And that my committee has no reason to fail me: they are invested in my success, and would only set me up to succeed. And, on the other side of my exams, there is that tiny vacation.

Someday, if I ever finish my Bibs, and feel up to speaking about them, I will put a post up with some suggestions for future MSU Anthropology Graduate Students. For now, my only suggestion is this: remember that the test you have to take on these things are it. The last test of your life. Ever. That’s all that’s getting me through at this point.

  • congratulations, Terry. Your hard work will certainly not go unnoticed with your committee. I’m proud of you. And impressed by your articulate narrative of the experience here.

  • congratulations, Terry. Your hard work will certainly not go unnoticed with your committee. I’m proud of you. And impressed by your articulate narrative of the experience here.