We're a little crazy, about science!

Day 121: Qualifying Exam Aftermath

Steele - QE

I don’t normally share photos of myself, but I thought I would share the final slide, I love it so much.

Well if you don’t follow me on twitter, then you don’t know the results of my qualifying exam. Well I’ll tell you, but not yet. First let’s talk about how it went and what the qualifying exam is (I know we’ve covered this already here, but it would be good to do it again).

First, what is the qualifying exam? Well the answer isn’t super straightforward unfortunately. This is because different depending on the school and the department within that school. Sometimes the qualifying exam really is an exam, closed doors, maybe written, possibly a presentation component where you do math/science/whatever for your committee as they request it.

Other times, like in my case, the qualifying exam is a project. Now, typically the project is copying an experiment, or maybe analysing data from a previous experiment in a different way. This way you show that you know the techniques to run and experiment and make sense of the data. The point with this style of qualifying exam is that these analyses take a long time so it wouldn’t make sense to have you perform them when you’re doing your exam. Instead you create a powerpoint and give a presentation on the work you did.

Then the committee asks you questions regarding what you did, how you did it, and most importantly why you did it the way you did. Sometimes they ask you to explain the concept behind the technique or the logic for why you did it. They also expect a background with studies on what you did. It’s been an interesting experience for sure.

So sidebar, being me, I didn’t do things the easy way. we are a brain machine interface lab and instead of repeating an experiment or analysing an experiment in a different way, I came up with an entirely new technique. It was a HUGE gamble and it may or may not have worked, but the results speak for themselves and it looks like it paid off. I’ve successfully convinced my PI that the technique works, not an easy feat. We will need to do more experiments to determine the limits of it, but I’m super happy with it.

Okay, now that we had our refresher on what a qualifying exam is and what I was required to do, let’s talk about the results. I ran through a practice presentation two days ago, it took me about 35 minutes and I made some minor changes to the organization, but over all everyone agreed I was ready… good.

I had been slowly getting sick and that night after my practice I got maybe 3 hours of sleep. I was coughing my brains out and hacking up all sorts of nasty stuff every 10-15 minutes meaning I had to get out of bed, go to the bathroom, cough up some awful stuff, then try to get to sleep before I had to do it all over again. This made for an interesting qualifying exam to say the least.

Fast forward to THE day of the exam. Running on no sleep and a LOT of sudafed, I pushed through it and as they say the show must go on. I could’ve rescheduled, but it is so hard getting a day locked in that it wasn’t even worth trying. I did it though, I fought threw it and managed to give my presentation. It took two and a half hours! They would stop me and ask questions as I went through the presentation and sort of drill me about the biology behind my project and why I did things the way I did.

It took a long time because there was no real comparable research to back up my findings so I had to build a case using invasive rat data and understanding of human biology. Now, let’s talk about the result!


I have now gone from a PhD student to a PhD candidate. A small milestone for sure, but an important one that I wanted to celebrate. So there it is, sometimes it pays to take risks. I’ve already spoken with my Co-PI and he is excited to start doing more experiments to determine the limits of the technique. In fact, he wants to get started ASAP. I’m good with that! I wish I could tell you guys what exactly it is that I’ve come up with, but it will come out soon so you’ll just have to stick around to find out. Let’s just say if the results hold, it’s going to change a lot of things and I’m excited about that prospect.

Now, time for me to try and get some more sleep. I feel so dead. I should mention that my PI had the flu and both a labmate and myself who was traveling with him both got sick. Yes, our PI got us sick and I hate it. I feel like death and it’s not a fun time, but now I can relax for a few seconds. I still have the prosthetic to finish, ideally before Christmas so I need to feel better ASAP.

Until next time, don’t stop learning!

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