Here are the five inevitable stages of comps, as told by someone who began researching and writing their senior comprehensive “thesis” only eleven days prior to its due date.
Stage 1: Panic
When are your comps due? Sometime in April, right? You don’t know for sure, and it doesn’t really seem to matter. But a casual glimpse at your syllabus reveals that a full draft is due in eleven days.
You sprint to your advisor, only to be rendered completely inarticulate about your comps topic. You know Marx pretty well, but so do first years. Weber said something about violence, but it simply isn’t enough to substantiate fifty pages of writing. Your advisor does some of the work for you and forwards a list of theorists to read. You rush to the library and accidentally request the same book three separate times on Link+ (if anyone needs a copy of “Gramsci and Marxist Theory” edited by Chantal Mouffe, please contact me).
Stage 2: Arrogance
After spending a few hours grabbing books in the stacks and downloading every seemingly relevant article on Jstor, you settle in to learn. An article here, a chapter there. You have cute Post-Its and write down every direct quote that sounds important. Surrounded by a mountain of books and pieces of paper, you felt suddenly … fine. You’ve got this. “I can probably bang out a literature review tonight if I want to,” you think.
This stage is confusing, but I suspect it’s because the body eventually runs out of adrenaline and evolutionary survival instincts kick in to create a feeling of false security (need to check this with the bio department). In this stage, you feel smarter and like your needs are more important than everyone else’s. You feel like you can afford a forty-five minute lunch break and crossword puzzle (you can’t).
Stage 3: Depression
It’s 4 a.m. and you don’t have a lit review. All you have are pages of incomprehensible quotes and a sleep deficit. Every theorist you need has written thousands of pages and it’s your job to sift through them and write a coherent theoretical framework. Did I mention that they are all about fascism? You spend a lot of time learning, but all this does is make you realize how little you know. It becomes clear how much work is actually ahead of you, and you’ve wasted three days in stage two.
It’s also a Saturday night, and you just got kicked out of the library. You will not be “going out.” Nor will you be sleeping, eating very much, laughing or pondering life’s wonders for the next eight days.
“What is the point of this?” you wonder. You start missing your childhood home, all of your ex-boyfriends, the dog you saw yesterday and elementary school. You want to call your parents (you really don’t call them enough), but it’s 4 a.m. and they likely do not want to hear about your gross mismanagement of time.
Stage 4: Plateau
The unshakeable depression gives way to a numbness. You pull an all-nighter and are too tired to be sad anymore. You keep typing. People don’t recognize you immediately anymore. Meanwhile, people from your high school have gotten engaged, Elon Musk is sending people to the moon and your friends have already cycled through two weekends of events and hangovers without you.
Stage 5a: Anger
From the small stores of energy remaining in your arguably soulless human form, you experience random bursts of anger. Sometimes it is self-directed, sometimes it is directed at random passerby. Like at people who say “it’s just a draft, right?” or “I’m an econ major.”
Stage 5b: Flu
It’s the flu. At the end, you just get the flu.