Sunday, April 6, 2008

the hardest thing

My Oral Exam was Wednesday.

When I was an undergrad I thought the Oral Exam for my PhD would be the hardest thing I would ever do. At that time I couldn’t even imagine having the confidence to walk into a conference room and get grilled for 2 or 3 hours. And it is true that the academic community thinks that the Oral PhD exam is the hardest exam period.

But this January I felt ready. I am not sure why I felt ready, I certainly never expected to, but it was probably a combination of my first year and a half of grad school. Teaching gave me confidence I think, especially teaching the same material multiple times. Also I grew up a great deal, while the assault of monthly literature exams was grueling and tedious, it accomplished its goal. The success of my second year seminar added to my confidence. Most of my classes were pointless, but in Andy the Lion’s class I learned how to write a good proposal, and how to critique it.

In January my first task was to get a committee. I was pretty scared to ask anyone to be on my committee because I was afraid they would say no. I didn’t feel like I was worth their time, and I expected them to feel the same way. But I forced myself to do it. And surprisingly everyone said yes. Not only did they say yes, but that they would love to help me out as much as they could. The older grad student I had talked to didn’t get those same responses. I was very surprised.

As far as I know, I was the second person in my entering class to have their oral exam. We can schedule it anytime after we pass the previous qualifier (end of fall of 2nd year) until the start of the fall semester of our 3rd year. I got my date 1 month in advance. I got my original idea, the day after I got my date.

Jips said to me: “You have alot of guts to go so early.”

I said: “I don’t have guts, I just lack inhibition.”

Ken and Shawshank were certain I would pass. I didn’t understand why. Shawshank said: “The purpose of the Oral Exam is to get rid of people that don’t belong here. That isn’t you.”

I didn’t really understand that until after my exam. Mostly I enjoy being the center of attention. I like writing on the board and answering questions. My oral wasn’t much different than teaching a general chemistry / organic / analytical class. My boss commented that I had a very supportive committee. They loved me, which is good. I am used to people loving me. This is one thing we talked about in therapy, how I am used to everyone adoring me. My boss doesn’t act like he adores me. My therapist says this is because he is insecure and I threaten him. I can see how that could be true... he is not very intelligent, not very moral, not attractive, and unloved. And I am the golden child.

After my exam, I felt like my committee had already decided that I would pass before they walked into the room that morning. I also felt like I wanted to do it again in a month so I could do even better. Of course that won’t happen. And I actually couldn’t do better score-wise: I got an unconditional pass, the highest you can get. But I wanted to be more impressive to my committee and to the world. I want to know everything. It’s just that there isn’t enough time. Anyway, now it is over.

To wrap this up: The oral exam was far from the hardest thing I will ever do. Dealing with unintelligent insecure people in power is far more difficult. Unfortunately, it also is something that lasts longer than two hours in a conference room.


Tino said...

What a great post. Congratulations! You should let yourself sit in the gratitude for a while. You should be proud of yourself.

I love the little exchange between you and "Jips."

And I agree that dealing with insecure people in power is probably harder. Insightful.

Meeleez said...

Congratulations Fermi! I can't say that I am surprised, but what I can say is that we all underestimate ourselves unjustly.

You have never failed at anything in your life and yet you are nervous as all fuck about your upcoming PHD oral exam/ USMLE board exam etc etc...

You will undoubtedly do perfectly fine on it, but somehow you are still overcome with anxiety....

Hopefully we can all be the confidence for each other that we are lacking in ourselves.... and when it comes down to it, none of us even needed it in the first place. You were going to do fine anyway.

Congrats babe. I am proud of you. I hope to follow in your successful footsteps when taking the boards in June.

So proud!!!!