Next: Colloquia and workshops
QPs have been the source of greatest consternation in our department in
recent years. But in this section, we will try and explain what you need
The first thing to do is start worrying about them in your first year.
You want to have at least one research interest that you could write a
QP about by the start of Spring Quarter of your first
year. So, get involved and go to workshops and colloquia.
The linguistics department requires you to write two QPs and have them
accepted (at a ``QP oral''). You are
supposed to be done by this process by the end of your second year,
although it is not too hard to get a one-quarter extension. If you
fail to complete the QPs on time, you may be prevented from
Besides this dire consequence, it is in your
best interests to have your qualifying papers done as soon as
possible. Struggling with your QPs in your third year simply takes
away time from your dissertation. On the other hand, there is so much
going on in your first two years, that there has been much protest
among the students about the QP process. This has resulted in several
- The size of the QP has been reduced in length. Nowadays, you should aim for something around
30 pages long, double-spaced.
Each QP should be a contribution to the field, but it does not have to
be perfectly polished. It does not have to be equivalent to a
journal paper, but need only be comparable to a draft of a
satisfactory conference paper.
Consequently, it may not be in your best interest to spend months
writing a perfect version of your paper before showing it to your
committee. It is expected that your committee should read two or
three drafts of your paper before the oral, and most of the time they
will explicitly require changes even after the oral. (So try to
schedule the QP oral well before the end of the quarter in which you
hope to get the work done.)
Students have a QP committee of at least three people. How these
people are determined has varied, but in recent years the official
position has been that the student gets to select one member and the
Graduate Studies Advisor and Departmental Chair determine the
rest (this is so the QP advising load can be fairly evenly distributed
among the faculty). While you can't totally determine who is on your
QP committee, if you fight to have certain people on it, you can
probably get them, so it is worth asking and complaining. In addition
to the above general points, the following words of advice have been
collected from weary QP survivors.
- Do not try to take all the required introductory courses in your
first year. Leave worrying about completing the basic course
requirements to your second year. You get a head start on a QP topic
if you take some advanced classes and can pinpoint an area which
interests you, and on which you can perhaps write a paper for the
- Talk to your fellow students (especially the older ones) and
tell them what you are interested in. Ask for advice on who to pick
for your QP committee. Some faculty are notorious for being bad
advisors if the student's topic is not of interest to them. You
may not be able to avoid having them on your committee, but you should
at least be aware of what you are getting into.
- Force yourself on faculty whose comments or advising you want.
Our faculty are very busy and many of them are difficult to pin down,
but you as a student need advising and it is their job to give it to
you, so insist on it. Even if you are by nature a rather shy person,
you need to take a deep breath and go find the faculty. You will find
that they are actually nice, helpful and interested once you present
yourself, so don't waste precious time by thinking: ``Oh, they are much
too busy for me, I won't bother them until I know what I am doing.''
- Do not try to solve the problems of the universe in your QP.
Pick a small topic and work on it. Otherwise you get bogged down in
impossibly large topics and end up feeling like you really did not
produce anything good and satisfying.
- Try not to be a perfectionist. There are bigger and better
things in life. Instead of wasting time trying to write a perfect QP,
get something interesting, good and short done quickly and then move
on. Waste your time on the dissertation instead.
Few students have had an entirely positive experience with their QPs,
so chances are that you will also feel pissed off at one point or
another. If this is any comfort, remember that the more problems you
have with your QPs the better you will know how to avoid them when you
are writing your dissertation.
Next: Colloquia and workshops