The time has come for me to study for the oral portion of my qualifying exams.
In order for a PhD student to advance to candidacy and start her dissertation, she has to pass a written and an oral exam. Different schools and different fields handle the exam differently, but in my program the written part of the exam is taken during the first year, and the oral part is taken at the end of the second or beginning of the third year. I’ve already passed a written exam on ecological principles and must now prepare for the oral portion.
My oral exam committee is comprised of 5 members who are each responsible for quizzing me on one topic. The topics are estuary ecology, behavioral ecology, mechanisms of behavior (i.e., genetics and endocrinology), quantitative methods (statistics and modeling techniques) and ecological principles. I’ll spend approximately 30 minutes presenting my dissertation topic to them and the next 2.5 hours fielding questions related to the fields mentioned above. It’s on bitches.
If I pass, I advance to candidacy and begin research (woohoo!). If I fail, I either have to take the exam again, or I have to jump through hurdles of the committee’s choice to prove that I know my stuff. If I fail again, I’m out of the program.
On the plus side, I’m expected to spend the next few months seriously studying the topics that I want to spend the rest of my career working on. How cool is that?!
Some of the questions I’ll study include:
1) What role do parasites play in food webs?
2) What role might parasites have played in the evolution of sex?
3) What is an estuary? What ecosystem services do estuaries provide?
4) What do we know about the role of testosterone in behavior? What about its role in immunity?
5) What do we know about the role of cortisol in behavior? What about its role in immunity?
6) What do we know about how dopamine and serotonin influence behavior?
7) How do parasites influence mate choice?
Your mission, dear reader, is to help whip me into shape! As I study for my oral examination topics I’ll create posts highlighting the cool things I’ve learned. If you have a question related to the topic I’m posting about, please ask. This will help me get a more complete understanding of the topic. If you think I’ve described something in a vague way, call me out. Vague descriptions probably mean I don’t completely understand what I’m talking about.
OK, I’m off to read my first assigned paper!