What is the Qualifier exam?
o Basically, it’s an early test to make sure the students they let into their PhD program know what their stuff—Academic hazing?
o Much like the rest of PhD-dom it will vary from school to school and dept to dept
Our experiences and our dept’s Quals like?
o Various folks in the panel explain their version of quals and experiences they want to share
o Stories and experiences:
1. Figuring I would fail out after my first year
2. Weird day… sorta nodding at your fellow first years as you walk down the hallways into your next exam.
3. Almost failed the subject I was supposed to be good at because I stupidly started almost arguing with the Prof.
4. After the test—felt like the religious cult (Millerites) “the great disappointment” the end of the world came and went and then I had nothing to do
5. Older grad student tapping me on the shoulder and saying: “you will never know as much as you do right now in materials science
Quals strategies, don’t panic, prepare!:
o Your advisor should realize you need to prepare for this and give you some space here—you should realize this too, but don’t panic!
o Talk to the older grad students, find out what their quals were like, what problems people had—story of grad student and curmudgeonly Prof
o We had awesome older grad students that right after the quals they put everything they remembered about it into a big book of knowledge for the next students—we dd the same after ours—the even had shots and burgers after it for us. Try and initiate your own tradition—you’re in this together
o Talk to the profs—we found some profs to be more willing to help that others… one even set up review sessions for us!
o Band together with your fellow first years, study together and compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Set up a weekly time and date, book a room, set a schedule, assign tasks
o Take senior level classes for the subject areas your weak at—it’ll be a shot to your ego possibly struggling with undergrads, but you’ll be better prepared for the Quals. Bonus points if the Prof teaching the class is giving the subject test
o Relax and take off for a day or even two, you’ve been through a lot and it’s been stressful
o Whatever happens is fine—if it delays you a year, that’s not the end of the world, probably for the best actually (Our connection to Dr. Steven Strogatz - a Connell rockstar professor and a Radiolab math guy!)
o The tests from here on out get technically harder but in the later exams (A & B) you come with way more PhD skillz to handle it so it’s actually easier though the subject area testing is not
o I found out later that some of the smartest and most impressive senior level grad students really felt they got rocked by their Quals—cut yourself some slack and if you need to retool or shore up something, do it and know you’re not alone
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