Well, Thank Og [i]That's[/i] Over ... Passed Me Quals

Well after some 18 months in my Ph.D. program I’ve finally cleared the monstrous rite of passage thingy that is the Qualifying Exam. For those not conversant with academia, the qualifying exam is an exam at the begining of your program that lets all and sundry know that you have a sufficient background to complete a research project which is a novel contribution to the field.

The beast is a two hour oral exam in which you are grilled in the subject (Astrophysics for me) by 5 tenured professors who then decide if you pass or fail. I passed, obviously, after 1 year of finishing up my M.Sc. project (it overran the one year alloted for it), 1 year leave of absence post a 4 month nervous breakdown, another 4 month battle with depression (thank god for Celexa!), and about three different project ideas/proposals.

Now to complete 4 years worth of research in 2.5! Charge!


My first words to another human being after the exam were [profane]: Well sucked hairy donkey balls… Obviously it went better than it felt.

Previewed an evr’thing:

remark should have read:

Well, That sucked hairy donkey balls…


Well done, Dancer-Flight!! I did astronomy for my undergrad, and heard many a tale of the horror that is Quals.

There is still a tremendous amount of work left to do but you have just completed what most regard as the most difficult part. Well done.



Any idea what you’re going to do for your research project?

What they say about it being downhill from here is kinda true. Once you pass your qualifying exam, you have proven yourself as being worthy of a Ph.D. It is a huge accomplishment. You should take a day or so to just treasure it.

A friend of mine took her qualifying exam earlier last week and did not pass it completely. She has to go back in two weeks and answer more questions. It sucks for her because she should not be going through this during the summer. For field ecologists, summer is the only time to get stuff done. So I’m hoping she pulls through.

You are the smartest you will ever be on the day of your qualifying exam. After they pass you, the knowledge you’ve acquired decays exponentially.

Be prepared for every younger graduate student in the department bombarding you with, “What did they ask you?” a million times. Be nice by not sugarcoating things. A friend, who failed her exam the first time around, told me that it was the toughest shit in her life. I kept that in mind as I studied.

Congratulations Dancer-Flight Well done!

Thanks for the congratulations (and the warnings :slight_smile: ).

Our qualifier is based on the student’s research proposal. We had extensive course requirements back at the M.Sc. phase that take care of most of the esoterica. The qualifying exam is a little more focussed on the student’s area of interest.

In my case I’ll be simulating and numerically evolving a star forming Giant Molecular Cloud. In the latter stages of the project I plan to adapt the simulation to handle observational data (which unfortunately is severely under-constrained but I expect have fun anyways).

As part of this work I need to adapt existing Magneto-hydrodynamic code to implement: self-gravity (already done – I had code most of the way there for an assignment but someone else has already implemented it, so that saves me a week), time variable external gravitation fields (having to deal with the potential from the Galaxy’s spiral arms over the course of the simulation), cooling in three different gas phases, ionizing radiation from the stars, as well as star formation which isn’t entirely understood except as hand-waving. So I will become one with the code over the next year and a half.

At the end of all of this I expect to have a Kick-ass Hydrocode, funky movies, and a good idea of how analytical theory can improve so we can better understand what’s going on out there. That and another three or four publications in my field.


Congratulations; it’s a good hurdle to be through!

The CQE in my program is different–you prepare a research question & conceptual framework (which has to be approved–getting that through is step one) and then you write on it for 8 weeks and turn in the paper (which is essentially your exam). It’s a different sort of thing than studying like mad and then showing off what you know in one brutal test (or series of tests). It’s probably easier in some ways.

Smart people who manage to write on a topic close to their dissertation can use their CQE as the first chapter or two of the dissertation. I wasn’t one of the smart ones.

Hey, congratulations! You must be floating on air right now, if not in a Giant Molecular Cloud. :wink:

I remember very well the huge feeling of relief I had after mine, but I still wanted to smack the committee member who told me right afterwards that he had “a lot of fun” with my exam. Thanks, you sadistic SOB. :stuck_out_tongue:

Sounds like your thesis proposal is all wrapped up already, which is a good thing too. Is the 1.5-year time frame you mentioned a personal goal for finishing, or is your department/funding putting a limit on the time you have left?

Sunfish, I use 1.5 years because I have to have 8 months to actually get and analyze data from the code and at least 2 months to write it all up. Departmental funding runs out in a 2.5 years and I don’t want to have to depend on my very patient supervisor for an extra year of funding.

After all, the goal is not to sit around paying to learn stuff. The goal is to be paid large amounts to sit around and learn stuff :), so 'tis best to finish as soon as possible (and publish a few more articles so as to attract post-doctoral positions).

P.S. The thread that first told me this was going to be a good home for me was this
from the Pit. I understood exactly what Podkayne was going through. Ah, the torture that is Radiation Processes.

Congratulations! That’s most awesome. :smiley:

I’m taking my exams (in English lit) in the winter, and am thoroughly frazzled about it. It’s always good to hear from people who’ve made it through successfully… :slight_smile:

A wise move. I spent the last three months before defense unpaid because my funding ran out (the result of a disconnect between my advisor’s hope/expectation that I could develop a very broad-ranging hypothesis to counter a rival’s published work, and my ability to deliver it). That didn’t add any stress to the situation, no sirree. :rolleyes:

You know of a way to be paid large amounts while indulging in basic research to your heart’s content? Damn it, I knew I should have gone into another field! :smack: :wink:

At any rate, unless your university handles defenses the British way (truly adversarial, without your advisor to lob you a few easy ones), you can relax a little now and enjoy your journey to the finish line. You’ve earned the right.