The TDK (Tudományos Diák Kör/Scholarly Paper Competition) is an extracurricular form of practicing academic skills by students. It aims at improving you skills of making and presenting an academic argument in the company of fellow students. Traditionally, it is a springboard for launching an academic career (PhD studies, etc.).
There are two rounds of activities, the first on local level (Institute) that is run annually and the second on national level (Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, etc. divisions) that is biannual. TDK, the first stage, begins by composing a paper of some academic merit, usually an excellent seminar paper or a BA thesis, which is to be handed in for the local TDK reading. Then it is assessed by two readers from the Institute and is presented and defended orally. These presentations are public and a TDK Committee listens to and assesses it. On the basis of the evaluations and the performance, it is decided whether the paper can be forwarded to the next stage, and if yes, what modifications are needed. OTDK, the second stage, in our case means the OTDK in Humanities. Here all the papers that had been forwarded from Faculties of Arts take part in the ’paper and evaluation’ plus ’presentation and defence’ stages. These stages are identical to steps of the previous procedure but the assessment is performed by university teachers from all over the country. An award from the OTDK brings points for a PhD enterance exam.
If you’ve ever felt you had an idea that is worth writing a scholarly paper about, something that tickles your fancy, something you are passionate about, then the TDK/OTDK is the right venue for you. To me, it has been an E-Ticket ride. The general idea is to try your hand early, then fail, try again, and fail better. I have written a fairly ignominious paper in my third year on Philip K. Dick and religion in science fiction which was a resounding, hearty failure I remember fondly. My peer reviewers were sobering, but they made me think about the talk I had given, and since I wanted to tell a story about what goes on in science fiction, I have chosen a new approach, using games studies to think about virtual realities in fiction, applied rigorous, but far-out thinking to it, and handed it in warily, bracing myself for a round of much the same. The reviews I got were cautiously encouraging, and on the oral round, I presented my material to modest success. The comments of my reviewers allowed me to fine-tune the paper in the short allotted time before it was submitted to the OTDK. There, mercifully, it got two reviewers who were into the same small field I was trying to break into. When I received their reviews, they were nothing short of glowing, but meticulously interspersed with exacting criticism. These comments would prove to be my strategic footholds, argumentational fodder to be disputed. The OTDK itself was a mass of faces, suits and dresses, some of whom I have grown quite fond of and have visited since. We had plenty of electrifying chats and copious amounts of wine. I have prepared, practiced and therefore given my paper with hard-won ease, which earned me a second place in my category, Literary Theory, a result that is pretty good for a paper that has not done any. At any rate, the experience was an ego-boost at the right time, and the general conviviality during the TDKs made it really worth it for me. Although nothing teaches like raw experience, I really felt like we all would have benefitted from a more thoroughgoing, weekly workshopping of ideas and papers-in-progress as my preparation was a bit of a hit-and-miss, trial-and-error process and I really would have liked to hear how others read my work before I handed it in to established scholars. TDKs require some tenacity, some damned-if-I-don’t dedication, which will pull you through the periods when you feel like giving up on the whole thing. I was fortunate enough to have had people who inspired me to prove myself, and it is these moments, the professional discussions and the correspondence, the time you spend with people because of your paper, that makes it, as they say in Support-groupese, a “growth experience.”
Good luck, I don’t envy you. =)
Makai Péter Kristóf