The small, unassuming pamphlet that will rule my life for the next several years has been bestowed upon me.
It is: the thesis card.
I don't know how other schools do this, but here every PhD student receives a two page, folded cardstock thesis card when they pass qualifying exams. The card is kept on file at the main office, and must be checked out with special permission whenever you need to add anything to it. It summarizes your PhD career in nearly chronological order.
Figure 1: Page 1
The only thing I can fill out so far is my name and the date I passed qualifying exams, and my thesis advisor. Soon, I will have to choose a thesis topic and a PhD committee, and the approved topic and committee signatures will be added to the front page.
Figure 2: Pages 2 and 3
Next, my program of classes for major and minor areas of study. I just discussed this with my advisor today - I made up a little schedule of everything I plan to take between now and graduation. It's an exciting list, I have to say. Interesting classes taught by giants in their respective fields - it's such a thrill to be crafting my own plan of study! My advisor has approved of the list, but I need to have signatures (again) from all of my eventual committee members.
The back page is reserved for committee comments at each committee meeeting. At each future committee meeting, I will check out this card and bring it to the meeting. The committee will record their comments on my progress, recommendations for next time, and anything else they find relevant. The number of times you have to check out this card is rather correlated to how critical those comments are.... :)
Figure 3: Back Page 4
And finally, the back page is reserved for your thesis title, date of defense, comments of committee at defense, and - ah heaven, draw near! - the signatures of all your committee for a final time, approving your doctorate.
So me and this paper are going to be close for the next few years (three, according to my timeline). We're gonna make it together, baby.