Year three: Beyond the comps


For many graduate level courses the comprehensive examination (“comps”) is a pass/fail checkpoint in the program (often after mandatory coursework) that assesses knowledge and work done to date. Once passed, the student can progress to their research. Comps seem to be more common in US and Canadian higher education – and Wikipedia, that rigorous source of academic information, says that “preparing for comprehensive exams is normally both stressful and time consuming!”

Our EdD comps were last weekend and preparing for them was indeed stressful and time consuming.  We wrote a 7,500 word paper on our research ideas (and questions) to date, that included a literature review and (in some cases) details of our theoretical framework.  We had to present for 20 minutes on our paper and our work so far. A panel of six UBC professors (familiar to us from our classes) then asked us questions for 40 minutes – it was pretty much open season! I am happy to report that I did get a question on Foucault. In fact, I think I managed to dodge/deflect enough to insinuate that, yes, I was intimately familiar with his groundbreaking contribution to the history of western morality – the three-volume L’Histoire de la sexualité (in the original French of course) and it was, in fact, my regular bedtime reading.

We have been together as a cohort for 2 very long years, and we are pretty familiar with each other’s areas of interest. Some of us haven’t varied much from our original idea, and many others have taken a long and winding journey to settle on something that may not have even been a consideration back in 2015. Members of the group have changed jobs, had personal and professional crises and questioned why they are doing this in the first place! There has been crying, anger, hugging and lots and lots of reflection.  Some of us have supervisors, some have a committee, a few others are still exploring. Regardless of where we are it was a significant weekend for all of us and marked the last time we will be “officially” together as a cohort.

We’re currently waiting for our results; we may have to do some extra work on our submitted papers before we move on. Next hurdle is the proposal, after which we can finally be referred to as doctoral candidates.  After a few bad academic first dates I finally have a committee – consisting of a philosopher, a poet and a physician. I am particularly thrilled with this and I am in the process of writing a “….walks into a bar” joke so please forward any suggestions you have. They haven’t got together yet, that comes after the proposal is approved by my supervisor, but I hope that happens before the end of the summer.

So – year three begins tomorrow! It’s not an overstatement to say the last two years have been life-altering, but I think that was the point. I have gone from being acutely uncomfortable speaking up about LGBTQ issues to never shutting up about them and I can’t wait to get into the rich conversations with my participants and find out what it’s like for LGB radiation therapists working today. Stay tuned!


Where does this quotation end?


….said my prof as she tried to unravel my latest draft paper. A good question and one I have been mulling over at length.  In the spirit of academic metaphors, at the moment I feel my reading is like a game of pick up sticks or perhaps Jenga. I can’t touch one thing, or idea, without bumping up against another.  A good friend who has been through this told me that “after the proposal” was the best time in her professional doctorate, you have the ground work done and can actually get on and do the thing you’ve been working towards for (often) years.  That bit before the proposal though, and before the comprehensive exam? That’s the teetering Jenga tower, the mess of sticks … the time when you realise how much you don’t know and what it’s going to take to stand up in front of the comprehensive exam panel, your supervisory committee and convince them that you’re ready to get going.

So my reading has been around theory, both queer and feminist, and then a quick tour around my conceptual framework – meaning what concepts will be foundational to my future work and how do they fit together? My research question is how do LGB radiation therapists manage their identities at work? How do they negotiate the complexities of coming out – and how do they decide? When you unpack this idea it’s obvious some work will have to be done on non-heterosexual identities, what “being out” means and why it’s (still) an issue. Our fundamental idea of being “professional” relies on an underlying and usually unarticulated assumption that the person at work is male (rational, unemotional), straight, white, able bodied etc. (Colgan and Rumens, 2015).  So sexual orientation in the workplace is an area of research that has examined this tension – with a small subset that looks at the health care workplace.  It’s also good to see a growing body of work on improving the experience of queer patients, this will also be important to look at – although most of it assumes they (we) are a “problem” to fix  (with our inconveniently high rates of cancer, mental illness and whatnot).

From my own experiences, I think the results won’t be unequivocally “this is what it is like”, but I do have a sense that some of the issues above will be important. There are likely others that I can’t see yet, or might not know until I have talked to the participants of the study. But I’ve already found a chance reference; discussion or recommendation can open up a new way of looking at something.  A paper I found by accident, for example, that looked at how LGB practitioners manage clinical examination of their patients (including scenarios where they may have a chaperone for an opposite-sex patient). The authors concluded that:

 (LGB) healthcare professionals engage in a complex interplay of identity management strategies to avoid homophobic abuse; as a signal of safety from homophobia and understanding for their lesbian, gay, and bisexual patients and as a desexualisation strategy principally for gay men and their women patients. (Riordan, p. 1227)

 I love the idea of “a signal of safety” – healthcare professionals flagging to queer patients that they are understood, and that they are safe to come out. We strive for that level of cultural competence and empathy for many different groups; it’s rarely discussed for queer patients.  One part of the Jenga tower, one of the entangled sticks but hopefully one that will remain.

Concept map exercise


Colgan, F., & Rumens, N. (2015). Understanding sexual orientation at work. In F. Colgan & N. Rumens (Eds.), Sexual orientation at work: Contemporary issues and perspectives. New York, NY, USA: Routledge

Riordan, D. C. (2004). Interaction strategies of lesbian, gay, and bisexual healthcare practitioners in the clinical examination of patients: qualitative study. BMJ, 328(7450), 1227–1229