Qualifying Exam Preparation for PhD students in Life Sciences and Biotechnology

Contributed by Darwin Bandoy, DVM

I am still over the clouds for passing my qualifying exam. And I am pretty sure most PhD students are curious how I made my preparations. So, I will be describing what I did.

  1. Read, read, read.I read all available materials for my topic (genomics of Campylobacter). This means getting the lay of the land, which translates to surveying the most current literature. For me, this started with the most recent review article in Nature Reviews Microbiology for Campylobacter. This step saved me a lot of time, plus the graphics enable me to grasp the major concepts immediately.
  1. Talk,talk,talk.I meet with my adviser (Dr. Weimer) every day. The minimum meeting time was 1 hour. And in those meetings, we almost resolved all the difficult questions. I never hesitated to ask him if I don’t know the answer. Those meetings are very productive as most of the questions have been asked by the qualifying exam committee.
  1. Know yourself, know your enemy.This is a classic art of war mantra, and it is very useful for preparing for the qualifying exam. While your qualifying exam committee is not your enemy, it pays to know them. I met with them several times and asked what would be the type of questions and minimum knowledge expected of me. They also provided me constructive advice which I integrated in my proposal.
  1. Practice for every situation.I learned this from a presentation workshop from Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. When I presented my final pitch for the Leaders in Innovation, something went wrong with the powerpoint presentation, but since I practiced for all situation, I went ahead calmly. People say my calmness was pivotal for me wining the first place. We do not practice for perfection, but we practice for every situation. I learned in the workshop it pays to simulate various audience reaction, and hence they try to anticipate the variabilities and prepare for that. I also used my refrigerator to diagram my talk.

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