8 things I’ve learned post-preliminary exam

I completed (and passed!) my PhD preliminary exam to transfer from the MSc program to the PhD program on December 1 and although it is all still sinking in I have made a list of some of the things I learned pre-, during, and post- defense.

  1. start early
    thankfully I was given this advice ahead of time and I listened, but maybe I should have started even earlier. Everything always takes longer than anticipated and surprise tasks can set you back a day or a few so starting early can give you enough of a buffer that your progress will not suffer to badly and reduce stress
  2. pick cognate topics that are useful and interesting
    cognates are not fun to write. They are also an awkward length (15 pgs max) that makes writing them challenging as the page restriction does not allow you to go as in depth as you might want to, but are not too short in that you can be extremely brief either. Therefore, finding a cognate topic that is not only useful and an interesting topic might just get you through writing it in one piece.
  3. de-stress
    prepping for the exam can be overwhelming, so its also important to take care of yourself. De-stress and maintaining physical activity is a top priority and should be something you make time for
  4. know the literature, and use it
    seems so obvious. I have a hard time with remembering authors and dates and is something I need to continue working on. I made flash cards which helped me remember some, but if you don’t find a way to incorporate those studies into your answers you aren’t doing yourself any favours. I found it tricky to try and show off my knowledge of the literature as I attempted to simply answer the questions my committee was asking without throwing in a citation here or there. It might be awkward to do, but just find a way to insert citations into your answers whenever possible
  5. bring food, glucose may improve people’s mood
    that has some pretty obvious benefits
  6. find all the terms that you think are obvious, and define them
    that seems to be a favourite question among examiners and one of my first questions was a definition of a term that is so central to my thesis that I took its definition for granted and on the spot it may be challenging to try and explain even the most simple of terms
  7. breathe
    all steps along the way
  8. you will not feel good
    during the examination the committee puts on their poker faces and you will not feel good about a single answer. you wont feel anything after you finish and pass except tired. eventually it will hit you, but you will still be tired. Despite this, you did something great so go out and celebrate even if you don’t feel so great about it.
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