Let me explain. In the literature part of the Masters program at Portland State, there are three ways to finish the program:
Thesis option: the student writes a critical thesis of 80-140 pages on a focused topic. They do an oral defense, and may also be asked to do a written 1-3 hour exam upon whim of the committee. Their committee is composed of three tenured profs who are relevant to the thesis’ topic area.
Exam option: the student selects three areas of focus, and selects a committee member for each of the three areas. Each committee member provides a reading/topic list with which the student is supposed to become conversant (i.e., you have to read them all). The student then shows up on a designated date and takes a 6-8 hour (that’s not a typo) written exam on the three areas. After that, they have a 1 hour oral interview/exam with the committee.
Portfolio option: the student selects three areas of focus, and selects a committee member for each of the three areas. Each committee member provides a reading/topic list with which the student is supposed to become conversant (i.e., you have to read them all). The student then works to create a portfolio of scholarly work in the three areas. Ultimately the portfolio is read by the committee and then an essay question is assigned (based on the portfolio contents), and the student has one week to generate a 12-15 page response. Once that is done, the student does a 1-hour oral defense of the portfolio.
So…. Almost no one does the thesis option anymore, because it really doesn’t take you anywhere. If you’re going to be hired somewhere or admitted to an advanced program, they want to see breadth of study, and a thesis is a highly focused piece of work. But, a few people who are really zeroed in on one discreet idea still do a thesis.
Lots of students—probably the most—do the exam option. It’s killer to study for, but their thought is that it’s a one-shot deal: you study like mad, take the test, and it’s over.
Many also take the portfolio. There’s more actual work involved than with the exam option, but when you’re done, you have something that you can use when seeking job placement, admission to another program, etc.
Okay, now that we’ve got all of that groundwork laid…. I have decided to go the portfolio route. And yesterday, I got my committee nailed down, which is a HUGE first step! (It’s important to ask them way ahead of time (1.25 years ahead, in my case!) because they get very busy and eventually start turning students down. And ideally, you want your first choices—the profs who know you best and who you feel comfortable with—to be the ones on your committee.
My committee will be:
Hildy Miller, emphasis in rhetoric and composition (she’s also my GA advisor)
Elisabeth Ceppi, emphasis in early American women’s lit (she’s also my lit advisor)
Lorraine Mercer, emphasis in women’s lit and Victorian British lit
I’ve also picked two of my three areas. One will be rhet-comp, and the other either American women writers or just women writers in general. The third will have to be some aspect of Brit lit (we’re required to have a British focus as one of our fields), and I’m still thinking on that.
So, there you go. Just having the committee set is a major check-off on the larger list.
This has probably bored most of you to death, but, if you can’t go on and on on your own blog, where can you?