What to Expect: 3rd Year

The third post in our four-part series about the CRDM experience comes from Shayne Pepper, who’s entering his fourth and final year as he works on his dissertation.


After two years of coursework, I remember anxiously awaiting my third year of the CRDM program. With my committee in place and reading lists approved, I had wonderful visions of a year at my own pace. Without classes, my schedule would be wide open (aside from teaching). This magical third year would be spent reading for exams and focusing entirely on my own project. I imagined that I would also finally get around to doing all of those projects I had been putting off – book reviews, revising papers, and reading that book I said would read two years ago!

I thought to myself, “Use the summer to get a head start, and then by the fall semester you’ll be ahead of schedule!” By the end of the summer, I had done lots of travelling for archival research (Los Angeles), conferences (Tokyo), and fun (Las Vegas), but my reading lists had very few highlighted books indicating that they had been read. With a renewed determination, I knew I needed support, encouragement, and someone to shame me when I had not done enough reading because I spent all day reading tech blogs like Gizmodo. My classmates Dawn Shepherd and Kathy Oswald were quick to the rescue.

We devised a plan that would get us across the finish line by a reasonable date. The plan was a simple: form a reading group. With our flexible fall schedules, we began to meet for five or six hours a day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. We would start off with a walk around the lake where we would talk about our progress (and everything else under the sun). After lunch we would then spend the rest of the afternoon reading, writing, or grading. By working together we could vent our frustration, share fun passages from Foucault, or decide that we needed a day off to just play Beatles Rock Band. By the end of the fall semester, most of my reading list was done and I had a ton of notes. It was time to schedule a firm date for my comprehensive exams.

After several meetings with my committee we finalized the dates, and I spent the first two weeks of February locked in my apartment studying my notes. The exam days came and went, and the three of us celebrated with a night of dinner and drinks. Two weeks later, I defended my exam answers and presented my dissertation prospectus. Again, we celebrated that it was all over. It took a few days for it to sink in that I actually passed my exams and was ABD. I kept having nightmares that my exam answers had to now also be peer reviewed by members of NCA and SCMS! The nightmares soon ended, and, after a nice spring break in New Orleans, I began working on the dissertation.

So what can you expect in your third year of CRDM? Expect to have lots of expectations. Some will be met, and some won’t. Set unreasonable goals for yourself so that when you don’t meet them, you can fall back on the more reasonable goal that you pretend to have planned to meet all along. Rely on your friends to help you through the rough times and to drive you home after celebrating the good times. Keep your teaching and grading time separate from your exam prep time. It becomes far too easy to put aside reading for exams when you have a stack of papers to grade. Just find the method that works for you, and stick to it. Your third year will probably mean lots of time away from campus, but don’t let the wide-open schedule turn into watching “Mad Men” all day… three days in a row. Trust me, it happens.

~Shayne Pepper

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “What to Expect: 3rd Year

  1. Kathy O

    Massive agree on this – Shayne, you’ve captured year three. I don’t know how I’d have gotten through my exams reading list without the watchful eyes of you and Dawn and the occasional “we deserve a break” day. I highly recommend reading with classmates in the third year – it is a great way to get stuff done _and_ keep the social element of grad school going after coursework.

  2. Pingback: The ABCs of ABDs | CRDM @ NC State

  3. Pingback: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Start Your Next Year in the Program) | CRDM @ NC State

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