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Comps. Comps? Comps!

January 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm
By Claire "Comps" Weinberg

As you may have gathered, winter term, for me and many unfortunate others, is comps term (or rather, it is for all the social sciences and humanities; I have no idea what the sciences are doing really, but I think they finish in spring). I say "unfortunate" only because it seems like such a short time to do so much. That's the conundrum of comps – you expect it to be THE capstone of your entire academic career, so you come up with a huge project that tries to encompass everything you've learned and everything you're interested in, and then the linguistics professor you go to to talk about how to use speech analysis software tells you your comps is a "dissertation-sized project", meaning it should be 200 pages long and completed over the course of 2 years, but you're already locked into doing it in 40 pages and 10 weeks. Or maybe that's just me. But anyway, at least I'm genuinely interested in my topic (more about my comps in this post); I would just like an extra term, please.


This is what my screen looks like lately. Hooray, Praat!

I would say that comps is not the all-important, "capstone", incredibly stressful experience new students sometimes make it out to be. Neither is it a complete breeze, or a waste of time. It's incredibly motivating in that you can choose the topic entirely on your own, without the restriction of course material (though you might want to comps on something that at least one professor knows about), and you do in fact use all the tools you've learned so far (research, organization, argument, analysis, just plain writing, etc.) even if you don't manage to shoehorn in every shred of knowledge or theory you've gained. It's all about, at least in my mind, taking the grand things you're interested in and compressing them down to something manageable and researchable, a practical chunk of the bigger picture. I didn't do so well at the compression part, apparently, but I think that's as valuable to learn as anything else. Even when I'm stressed about comps, I think it's better that I chose to go to a school that requires some kind of thesis experience for everyone (rather than just for honors, or not at all) because it allowed me a) to look at a topic that wasn't offered in any courses, and b) to be completely self-motivated and create and execute a project that is all my own. I don't know if I would have really been able to take stock of what I'd learned so far (in terms of research, writing, organization etc.) if I had only ever focused on small projects for particular classes.

Anyway, to give you an idea of the kind of thing people around me are studying, here are some SOAN comps titles from past years!

  • Welcomed as "New" Minnesotans or Framed as Responsible "Others"?  Exploring the Media Framing of Somali Immigrant Health and Wellness in MN between 1996 and 2010
  • Holy Representations of Themes and Cultural Ideas, Batman! A close examination of representations of themes and characters in the Batman franchise from 1939 to the present day 
  • The Impact of Religiosity on Marital Dissolution in the United States: A Comparison between Blacks and Whites
  • From the Scroll to National Language: Linguistic Ideology in the Hebrew Revival
  • Taking the Time to Care - Hallmark Cards and the Commodification of Time

The variety in these topics is why I like being a SOAN major. (The Batman comps was pretty serious and good, by the way.)

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