February 20, 2012

Qualifying Exams

So here I sit at 10:11 pm waiting for my next qualifying exam (comprehensive exam which I must pass in order to become a PhD candidate which means I can defend my thesis and maybe graduate?!) which I was promised to have today.............. I'm tired, cranky, and I had to go get take-out food because I didn't bring lunch and dinner with me. I don't have internet at home which means I will likely be here until some god awful hour in the morning researching answers.

One of my advisers told me that the qualifying exams ("period of PhD hell") are similar to a fraternity hazing........mmmm? Well, I'm sure you all know that fraternity is male orientated and hazing is a ritual of initiation which may be mental and/or physical.

While I realize that the PhD qualifying exams are not as severe as Greek Society Hazings I do question the validity of the process. As a friend of mine in another disciple said, "I passed those classes and I already proved that I gained that knowledge. So what is the point of making me do it all over again?" I think she has a valid point. Take veterinary science for example: vet students spend three years in class, a year in clinical rotation, graduate, and then they have to pass a board exam to be able to practice as a DVM. This makes sense to me. I realize it's not a perfect solution but it is a way to standardize the practice for all PhD students. This may not seem like a good idea to you but I have talked to students from Entomology departments in other schools and frankly the steps to get a PhD are not equivalent across the board. I would say that the school I attend has by far the strictest requirements for passing qualifying exams and becoming a PhD candidate. I wish this meant that I would be more qualified for a job but I suspect that just isn't so.

In case you were wondering what I mean by differences in requirements take a look at a few different schools and their requirements for PhD qualifying exams:

Cornell: scroll down to thesis and examinations

Kansas State University: a minimum of 5 written exams (need to take a test for four of the following areas: morphology and anatomy, systematics, physiology, behavior, genetics, ecology, integrated pest management, biological control, toxicology, host resistance, evolution; an additional exam from an area outside of entomology such as statistics) and then the oral exam

University of California - UC Davis: copied from their student handbook
"The Entomology Examination must be completed by Ph.D. students prior to taking the Qualifying Exam, and is to be completed no later than the end of the first year in the program. (This exam is not required for M.Sc. students.) The Entomology Exam mandates that students develop a general knowledge of entomology and an ability to think critically/conceptually, and it will identify any major weaknesses or deficiencies in their understanding of entomology. General Entomology is a required subject area on all Qualifying Exams: passing the Entomology Exam fulfills that requirement. It is the responsibility of the student to plan, with the advice of his/her Guidance Committee, for the Entomology Exam."

"The Entomology Exam will be oral, last for 1½ hours. and will be offered once each year at the end of the spring quarter. All students of the same annual “cohort” will be tested from the same set of recommended readings. This means that the exam will be given during the same time period to all students.
The Entomology Exam Committee, appointed by the chair of the department, will provide a formal “Reading List, Guide and Sample Questions” during the first (Fall) quarter. Questions will be in four major areas of Entomology, as defined by the departmental peer groups: (1) Systematics and Evolution; (2) Physiology and Molecular Biology; (3) Ecology and Behavior; and (4) Agricultural and Medical Entomology. Preparation for the Entomology Exam also includes registering for 1 unit of ENT 298 (Topics in Entomology) in Winter and Spring quarters, designed to formalize the operation of a study group that will review exam materials. Students will meet once a week during the two quarters, with periodic involvement of the Entomology Exam committee. Other faculty members also may be called upon to provide input on selected topics."

University of Minnesota: scroll down to written preliminary exams

After looking at those different schools I'm sure you can see what I mean- there is no consistency with how the exams are done and what is expected. I just think that it would be better if the expectations were the same across the board.

Thanks Gods for Serenity and regular tai-chi because otherwise I might lose my mind!

Yes, I think I need to learn how to do Taichi Fan! :)