This Friday I’ll be going through the second of three major exams on the road to a PhD. At Scripps we call it a ‘qualifying exam,’ which I recently realized sounds quite weird. Especially when you use it in a sentence- “I am qualifying on Friday” or “Has so-and-so qualified yet?” Qualified to do what exactly?
In this case, to finish your PhD. To be honest, I think this is assessed often and you’re notified by an advisor relatively quickly if you are not qualified to do a PhD. But the three major exams give your advisor and your committee and opportunity to make sure you are on the right track and developing the ‘correct tools to succeed.’
Exam 1 was called ‘departmentals’ and was held after my first year of classes. For me, it was two full days of written questions, based on courses I had taken. This is far beyond the world of ‘can I bring a calculator?’ Although most of my questions involved math, even the most advanced graphing calculator wouldn’t have done much for me. After the written test was a one hour oral exam, given by four seated scientists to me standing in the front of the room armed with a dry erase marker and white board. I managed to put that one behind me in October 2009.
Exam 3 is your thesis defense- a public presentation of what you spent the last 5-8 years doing, a grilling by your thesis committee, and the granting of your doctoral degree.
And exam 2- qualifying- is the one I am getting ready for now. The first steps were to form a thesis committee (a set of scientists to help guide you through your research) and write a thesis proposal (an outline of what you’ll be doing for your thesis). I sent the written proposal to my committee last week, giving them lots of time to ponder and come up with difficult questions. On Friday, I will present my ideas and methods to them, along with results of work I’ve already done, and they will ask copious questions. One of my advisors suggested that I prepare a talk that takes me 30 minutes uninterrupted, and to allow 3 hours of time.
It is exciting and a little scary. But now that the grunt work (mostly writing the proposal) is done, I’m feeling good about the whole process. Being forced to write down your ideas as a scientific proposal (you know- background, hypothesis, methods, expected results) makes you really think about them and how viable they are. So I still have all fingers crossed for Friday to go well, and I hope that my committee gives me a big thumbs up at the end so we can all go drink champagne and get the long weekend started. I am also looking forward to it as a chance to refine my research ideas and make them better, and I’m even getting a little excited.
I won’t make you read my 17 page long proposal, but in case you’re curious here is the outline:
The Interaction of Multiple Stressors on Coral Reefs: Can We Determine Resilience to Climate Change?
Doctoral Thesis Proposal
- Introduction and Overview
- Major Research Questions
- Research Chapter 1: Coral Habitats- Large Spatial Scale Comparison Studies
- Research Chapter 2: Future Projections of Coral Reef Habitats (NCAR/SUNNY)
- Research Chapter 3: Island Effects on Oceanography and Larval Connectivity
- Research Chapter 4: Historic Ecology of Caribbean Coral Reef Fish Communities
- Expected Publications