Re: Qualifying Exams

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Does the relationship (Stong: grant; Weak: teach) applies to faculty, too ? Based on who I saw teaching summer session for $ vs who was getting big research grants, I'd say yes.


Posted by: Econolicious | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:23 AM
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The best bit about that sort of thing is that your initial perception of who's strong and who's weak is never wrong.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:35 AM
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I'm at a teaching college, so it's not true there. But it seems to be the norm at research universities. But it's only a problem for people pre-tenure, I assume. Post-tenure, it seems less unreasonable for those who fall off in productivity to pick up some extra teaching.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:35 AM
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your initial perception of who's strong and who's weak is never wrong.

OTOH, when you guess wrong, it evens the playing field: a less prepared student has some extra time to catch up, and a more prepared student can better balance the workload.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:38 AM
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Fucking analysis. Damn you, Hilbert! To hell with Weierstrass!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:40 AM
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Actually, I rather like analysis.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:41 AM
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They started letting students do the eight-hour comprehensive exam on the computer a few years after I took it. Us oldsters kept giving advice like, "Use a pen whose ink flows freely or doesn't have a hard tip, so you don't hurt your wrist," and these kids today are all, "Oh, I'll just type it." Whatever happened to all the suffering?

My quals were the most stressful thing that's ever happened to me in my life, including a few near-death experiences. I did really well, but was almost suicidal for the week before, the weeks after, and during the whole thing. My committee had decided I was way too smart to need to review how to take orals, so they refused to practice with me. Every question was out of the blue sky.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:44 AM
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My committee had decided I was way too smart to need to review how to take orals, so they refused to practice with me ...meet... I did really well

Your committee was right!


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:48 AM
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My quals were the most stressful thing that's ever happened to me in my life,

You know, I hadn't quite assessed it in this way, but this is probably true for me, too.

The week I had two quals, my piece of shit boyfriend cheated on me a week ahead of time, because I'd been neglecting him. Then he felt guilty, so he told me about it a day or two before the exams began.

Fortunately something protective in my brain thought "That's entirely reasonable of him! I've been busy!" and so it wasn't very distracting to me, until after the exams when I got really pissed.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:50 AM
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I did very well on my generals and the orals were easy. The dissertation, not so much.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:50 AM
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Just thinking about it still makes me want to throw up.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:50 AM
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AWB, I must have missed the news of your actual defense. It passed happily?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:52 AM
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My qualifying exam was just a one-hour oral exam. I think there were only two questions, and my advisor strongly hinted at the one he would ask, so that I could remind myself of stuff he knew I hadn't thought about in years.

Every time I'm around people talking about their grad school experience was I feel like I have to apologize for how easy mine was.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:52 AM
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For the other question, I think they thought they were throwing a curveball, but they inadvertently asked something I know really well. "Estimate the temperature of the Earth," they said. "OK. I can throw in a toy model of the greenhouse effect, if you want," I answered.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:54 AM
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1 and 3 remind me of this anecdote lifted from Campos's piece on Elena Kagan:

When Koh was hired at Yale, he had a long conversation with a senior faculty member about Koh's scholarly plans, and how he should pursue them in the context of his pre-tenure career. Eventually, Koh asked his colleague about teaching. "Teaching," he was told, "is like hitting a home run at the faculty-student softball picnic. Your career here will depend on how your scholarship is judged. And if you hit a home run at the picnic, well that's nice too."

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:54 AM
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I passed the quals on the first try due to a student on a fellowship with one of the qualifier committee members. The professor was so certain of the student's awesomeness that he advised him not to waste time studying for the qual, so the student ended up getting a grade right at bottom of the fuzzy pass/fail boundary, and prof felt obligated to argue the boundary down. The same prof wrote the E&M question that put me just above his student, and which I was counting on as an easy 20 points since E&M was far and away my best subject. The question in question deviated so much from the standard qual format that it screwed nearly all the students, so people who got shellacked in the E&M course actually ended up tending to do better than the ones who did well, since they went into it nervous and alert rather than overconfident, so didn't fall for the trick in the question.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:55 AM
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No, I haven't defended the dissertation yet! I'm only 2.5 chapters in. The exams were successful.

I don't think my committee was hostile, but I made my quals hard on myself by putting every imaginable text on the list (like 220 books), and my director was having health problems, so I didn't get sufficient coaching. They said I did very well, but there were a few questions to which the only response I could think of for about a minute of silence was "I have no fucking clue how to talk about that." Two and a half hours of hell.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:57 AM
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14: Aren't you going to tell us what the temperature of the earth is?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:58 AM
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Yay, another post that will talk me out of considering grad school!

Apparently my mother told my dad that she was pregnant with me (as it turned out) on the day he had to defend his dissertation in heebie's field. I've always wondered if he stumbled into the room and said, "Dudes, we're going to have a baby!" and then they all went out for drinks instead of interrogating him or something, but I've never asked.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:59 AM
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He felt guilty about cheating so he told you about it just before your huge exams?

Do you think he was really that clueless/self-centered, or was he trying to sabotage you?

Good thing you have excellent self-protection mechanisms, heebie!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:00 AM
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"I have no fucking clue how to talk about that."

As I've gone through life, I've been astonished at how often this is the correct and appropriate answer.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:00 AM
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18: The simpleminded Stefan-Boltzmannology gives an answer of ~280 K, which actually sounds pretty nice right now.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:01 AM
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Man, law school was easy. Three hour exams on a tightly restricted subject matter; a few papers, but nothing all that daunting... and it's still a doctorate, kinda!

(On the other hand, after you graduate, you have to be a lawyer.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:01 AM
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22: Thank you. We're thinking about a picnic this weekend.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:02 AM
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23.2: I've got a relative who graduated law school and said, "Pass." He's a contractor.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:03 AM
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20: I think he believed his own insane rationalizations and felt victimized that he was such a Bad Person (in the Southern-Baptist sense), and just under the surface, it was partly my fault he was a Bad Person. So yes, sabotage, but he wouldn't have acknowledged it.

It was a period of my life when I felt that everyone's opinion was equally valid, and so I validated his insane take on blame and consequences, and never questioned that he needed to tell me right that very instant.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:04 AM
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Our exams were different from those in a lot of classics departments, in that we didn't make lists of Greek and Latin texts that we were then examined on our ability to translate with dictionary. We had to sight read random passages. I'm not sure which is harder. On the one hand, we were only given prose and didn't have to be responsible for a list. On the other, we didn't have a list that we could basically memorize before sitting the exam and we didn't get a dictionary.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:09 AM
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I thought that thesis defenses in my field were all pretty much just formalities, but then I happened to be visiting another institution when someone was graduating and went in the seminar room after her defense to find laborious calculations scribbled on every inch of blackboard space. Thank god everyone on my committee was young, I guess.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:09 AM
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There was a university-wide policy that all grad students must pass a language exam. It's pretty easy to pass a foreign language exam in math.

In our department, you picked a paper in your area, and a faculty member pick a passage for you to translate, using a dictionary. This, unsurprisingly, is a really easy task to do with a math paper.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:13 AM
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What's the point of really difficult exams supposed to be, anyway? It's not as if in the real world you're ever locked in a room and unable to consult a reference if you forget something.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:13 AM
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I thought that thesis defenses in my field were all pretty much just formalities,

None of my committee members - advisor included - actually read my dissertation.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:14 AM
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I'm not sure I can pinpoint exactly why this thread is giving me such a strong vibe of Al Bundy "I once scored four touchdowns in a single game at Polk High", but, for some reason, it is.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:14 AM
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Which is probably why I'm more proud of passing my prelims than I am of my defense.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:14 AM
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Language exams in my department are pretty easy. You have to take two of them, and you translate a page they give you in an hour. They tell you what book it's from ahead of time, but not what page. Still, people try to get out of it. But it's not stressful, and I don't think anybody feels bad if they have to take one again.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:15 AM
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Glory days. In a wink of a young girl's eye...


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:16 AM
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None of my committee members - advisor included - actually read my dissertation.

I wanted to see if my undergrad thesis was actually being read, so I wrote "Sen. Edward Kennedy (DUI, Mass)." Boy was it ever being read.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:16 AM
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31: Huh. Is that common in math? Other fields?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:16 AM
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29: Did people ever pick offbeat languages they didn't speak at all?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:16 AM
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Huh. I had a girlfriend who cheated on me when I was busy doing my undergraduate thesis at the end of my senior year, and then dumped me one week before my qualifying exams. I swear to God I thought the timing of both was a coincidence until heebie's 9.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:17 AM
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30: Yeah, on the one hand I think exams cause a lot of stress in a very unevenly distributed way (based on people's experience with exams, not on their ability to do research). On the other hand, there needs to be some good way to get people out of Ph.D. programs that they shouldn't be in before they've wasted 5 years of their life and still end up with just a masters.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:17 AM
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29: Hee. Yeah, our Greek and Latin exams were different from the university-wide language exams. We had to pass two of the university-wide ones (in French and German), which were not administered by departments, but divisions, and were random selections of scholarly articles in the humanities and social sciences. I think at some schools you can use "formal logic" as a language.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:18 AM
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I made my quals hard on myself by putting every imaginable text on the list (like 220 books)

This is pretty standard length in my department. And they're in German! The assumption is that you've got native-level language skills. My German is pretty damn good, but the reading speed is still not as fast as in English.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:19 AM
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This, unsurprisingly, is a really easy task to do with a math paper.

Huh. Sometimes I can't even make sense of them when they're in English.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:20 AM
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37: My advisor certainly read the introduction, and almost certainly didn't read anything else. My other math committee member fully intended to read it, but got busy and didn't end up reading much of it. My outside member certainly didn't read it, though I bet he read part of the intro.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:20 AM
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43: Well, this is sort of why it's easy. When reading math in french the hard part is the math not the french. I even find sometimes it's easier to read math in french because the french makes me slow down to a speed where I can understand the math.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:21 AM
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46

I can eat basically anything.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:28 AM
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It's not as if in the real world you're ever locked in a room and unable to consult a reference if you forget something.

Meetings can be pretty similar to exams, especially if there's resource allocation being decided. Being able to identify dubious claims on the fly is useful.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:28 AM
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31: Huh. Is that common in math? Other fields?

I, uh, only gave my dissertation to my committee about four weeks ahead of time. I think that's pretty common for students who are totally burnt out, in which case those math committees are pretty much never going to read the whole thing.

It's bizarre that my advisor never actually read my dissertation, though. He had me present all the results to him in his office, so he signed off on the content. But I was never given any instruction on how to write clearly, for example.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:29 AM
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Being able to identify dubious claims on the fly is useful.

As is being able to identify flies on the dubious claims.


Posted by: Opinionated Insurance Adjustor | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:30 AM
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My advisor certainly read the introduction, and almost certainly didn't read anything else.

Maybe this is more common than I thought. Math is really boring to read.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:30 AM
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But I was never given any instruction on how to write clearly, for example.

Who is given instruction on how to write clearly?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:31 AM
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48: Yes -- that the members of the committee very likely wouldn't read a dissertation doesn't surprise me. But the dissertation advisor -- I guess I had naive notions about the meaning of advisor.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:32 AM
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51: Any student of this nitpicky-as-fuck referee for my never-ending paper of doom?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:35 AM
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A great family FAIL story: My father flunked his language exam on the way to a PhD in American studies. He had chosen American Studies specifically to avoid having to study Old English or Latin, requirements for most related degrees. He had to choose between German or French.

He was a native speaker and reader of Yiddish (although born in Brooklyn), so he figured he could take the German exam with no prep at all. They gave him a nineteenth century passage about Andrew Jackson where the author used some archaic representation of the letter X in the middle of the subject's name. Also it turned out that Yiddish is not as similar to nineteenth century German than it needed to be for the task at hand. He couldn't figure out what famous Ameircan studies subject the passage was about.

Passed on a second try.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:35 AM
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There was someone in my department who purposely chose an AWOL adviser so that he could do his own thing. His thesis contained a counterfactual assumption as a starting point, which was pointed out to him at his defense by one of the committee members, who hadn't really read the thesis until sitting down for the defense.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:36 AM
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53: I bet he's not doing that to his students if he spends that much time on peer review. Anyway, that seems very strange. I've never gotten any grammar or writing critiques back on a paper with which I've been involved.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:38 AM
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56: Well, his peer review turnarounds take 6 months to a year. Maybe his students just never graduate.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:40 AM
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57: Egg his house. That is just way to long. The editor should be step in.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:45 AM
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We get a lot of writing advice in English, but it's very different for each director. A woman in my program claims to be able to tell who directed any thesis in our department by reading the first paragraph.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:47 AM
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58: I take equally long to resubmit, since I don't have time during the semester. Which is why this paper of doom has been in revision since 2004.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:48 AM
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60: My 3rd dissertation chapter has been under revision since 2004.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:52 AM
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Not that I've looked at it since 2005.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:54 AM
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Based on 45, I'm now going to imagine that Cryptic Crossword is Grothendieck, ensconced in his goat farm with only Unfogged and the goats to keep him company. Hi, Grothendieck!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:58 AM
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But surely Grothendieck would read faster in french!


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 10:15 AM
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Grothendieck

Math porn star?


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 10:31 AM
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If he's Grothendieck, we'd better be really careful about quoting any of his comments anywhere.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 10:34 AM
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Dutch name for Viagra.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 10:34 AM
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We had to sight read random passages. Captcha !

On the other hand, after you graduate, you have to be a lawyer
Or you could fail the bar exam. In countries where article is a verb, 'law' commonly may be a post-graduate bachelor degree.


Posted by: Econolicious | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 10:50 AM
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In my graduate program you had two chances to pass the "qualifying" exams, in your first two years, on everything you really ought to know about undergraduate-level physics (plus a bit more). It took all day on what proved to be homecoming weekend, and the marching band going past was Not Helpful. Then you had a "preliminary" exam, which was basically presenting your thesis proposal, followed by fielding questions on whatever your committee (+ a randomly-chosen faculty member) felt like asking you. I knew someone who, at his prelim, actually said to the committee "C'mon, guys, give me a hard one, make me feel like Im getting my money's worth." "Very well, Mr. B----, explain how a radio works." (His proposal was on stellar astrophysics.) "You may start with Maxwell's equations." They kept him twisting on the hook for a quarter hour, as I recall... (Legend says that the physics department used to have a language requirement, but that in the 1970s someone slipped a resolution past the relevant university committee which made Fortran an acceptable language, and after a few years it lapsed as a farce.)

The stats. department has two sets of qualifying exams, too, one for the masters-level courses and one for the doctorate-level classes. One of the three doctoral exams is actually spending a year doing a real data-analysis project, with real data, and then writing and presenting a paper about it. This has the nice property of actually having some connection to what people with doctorates in statistics actually are supposed to do. Some of us are trying to make the probability and statistical theory doctoral exams more like that, and less like solving homework problems on a clock.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 11:31 AM
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51: Who is given instruction on how to write clearly?

Philosophy grad students, in my experience. It's difficult to separate the content, the thesis or claim, from the writing (presentation) of it. You may be the most brilliant thinker alive, but it's useless if you're presenting gobbledygook.

I don't know whether to suppose that qualifying exams in the humanities differ significantly from those in the sciences, or not. I mean, no doubt, certainly. In my department: one qualifying exam, in your chosen area of specialization (e.g. phil of language, phil of science, ethics, whatever). A suggested reading list of the perceived canon in that area, fairly long, was provided; you were expected to be wholly familiar with this. No particular prep course was provided -- that seems really strange to me -- but you were just expected to fill in any gaps in your knowledge on your own.

The one qualifying exam was, as I recall, 4 hours long, essay format, obviously, all hand-written; or, around my time a typed-on-the-computer option was available, if special arrangements had been made. I think only one person in my year took this option, and it was gladly agreed to, as his handwriting was well-known to be atrocious.

Two language exams, one hour long, translation of a random passage from something in the field (it might be, say, Kant). Goofily, you could fill one of the required "languages" by taking a course in another department: no sweat, peoples! I take courses in Political Science all the time! That counts? Cool!


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 12:03 PM
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Language exams: When I was an undergrad at Amherst considering a math Ph.D., I saw in the college catalog that grad schools required two languages out of French, German, or Russian. Knowing only French, I asked a professor whether I should start one of the others. He said "Let me tell you about my friend's Russian exam for his math Ph.D. from (IIRC) Princeton. He went to the examining professor's office. The examiner took a book off his shelf and asked my friend to begin translating at page 117. My friend observed that the book was not written in Russian. The examiner congratulated him on passing the exam."

For my math Ph.D. at MIT, the qualifying exam was an oral on a major topic and two minor topics of my choice -- knowing the material of the core grad course cold was good enough. My defense was fairly routine, but a friend of mine had one of the committee members challenge the utility of the central definition of the thesis, in the defense, without ever bringing it up before.

In my current computer science department, we used to have written comprehensive exams to qualify for the Ph.D., but (1) there were students whom we wanted to give degrees who were not going to pass any theory exam we gave them. (2) the students ignored their grad courses to study for the exams, and (3) the studnets got no research done while studying for the exams. So now we have a "portfolio" system that mirrors our evaluation of a job candidate -- we look at core course grades, whether they have published anything in their first two years of grad school, and get letters from three or four faculty. It works pretty well -- almost no one is rejected at the portfolio stage but many leave with a master's degree rather than attempt the portfolio.

I believe that in my department the committee chair nearly always reads the thesis closely. I've always read it at some level when I've been on the committee, though I will admit to skipping over some code in computer science theses and to skimming a lot of technical detail when I've been an outside member for another department.


Posted by: DaveMB | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 12:03 PM
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71.3: This portfolio approach is interesting. Certainly, expecting students to put together such a thing would lead to many leaving with the master's, but in the current academic climate, that may not be a bad thing. Tough as that is to say.

It took me more years than it should have to realize that I wasn't on the road to producing the kind of package that would make finding a job anything less than hellish. The nature of a portfolio in the humanities would be a bit different: for one thing, core course grades? If you're not getting As in pretty much everything, you should be considering getting out anyway. Publishing and networking, including giving conference talks, would be more key.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 12:32 PM
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We didn't have written qualifying exams, just the orals. You picked three major fields, one minor, worked out some hellishly long list of readings, and eventually got questioned. It was a lot of work, but since the format played to my strengths, most of the stress came from not doing enough work early on and then having to study one hundred hours a week for two months. Not fun at the time, but I learned a hell of a lot.

We also had to pass three language exams, two before the masters, one more later for the Ph.D. They were short passages with a dictionary and infinite time allowed - i.e. far less than you actually needed to do research, which we did. Really, really non stress inducing if you're a native level reader in two of them and quite good at the third.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:20 PM
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My package passed the orals quite handily.


Posted by: Dr. John Holmes | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:24 PM
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The portfolio idea sounds good, I like that it more closely mirrors the way that job evaluation works in the future. The downside is that in many fields people aren't going to publish in the first year or two, which makes it harder to judge.

One could imagine adding a required prepared talk with Q&A, which has some of the aspects of an oral qual, while being a real situation like ones you will be judged on in the future rather than an artificial exam.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:32 PM
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Portfolios are the job evaluation of the future. And Dippin' Dots are the ice cream of the future.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:34 PM
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Dippin' Dots are fantastic. And cute.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:35 PM
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I thought "Cookie and Cream" were good, but the Banana Split Dippin' Dots kind of sucked.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:38 PM
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Hate the flavor, not the dots, hater.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:39 PM
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One could imagine adding a required prepared talk with Q&A, which has some of the aspects of an oral qual, while being a real situation like ones you will be judged on in the future rather than an artificial exam.

This is what the second exam (after the qual and before the thesis defense) is at my grad school U. (Well, it also has a written component: basically, write two mini-review-articles and give talks on them.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:40 PM
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And by "kind of sucked," not only would I not eat them, but a four year old would not eat them on a 90 degree day after a couple of hours at the zoo.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:41 PM
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Us as well. After you passed your exams, you had about a year, and then the next round was a seminar with questions about the material in the area you were planning on working in. This was not terribly stressful.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:44 PM
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I have never had a good experience with banana ice cream. Banana shakes, on the other hand? Delicious. Explain that, you people with your fancy degrees.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:52 PM
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But, I don't have a fancy degree.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:56 PM
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One could imagine adding a required prepared talk with Q&A

We had to do that as part of proposing. 30pp precis + chapter + tour of all chapters + workshop talk.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 1:57 PM
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I'm sorry Moby: an undergraduate degree just doesn't qualify you to explain condensed matter banana dynamics.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:01 PM
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I mean, the tasty-freeze matrix alone is graduate level.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:03 PM
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I have a graduate degree, just not a fancy one.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:03 PM
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Banana ice cream is homogeneous and isotropic; but a banana split partially breaks those symmetries, creating a topological organizing center which enhances the nucleation of generalized deliciousness.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:06 PM
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83, 89: I believe the topic here was banana ice cream v. banana shake. Banana splits are an entirely different field of graduate study.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:14 PM
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But Moby mentioned Banana Split Dippin' Dots, which we are to believe somehow represent a banana split despite being in the more isotropic dot form. Maybe a diffraction analysis would reveal that microscopically, they're in some sort of nematic phase.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:15 PM
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91: I forgot that! My understanding isthat Banana Split Dippin' Dots is a combination of banana, vanilla, and chocolate dots.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:19 PM
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Maybe a diffraction analysis would reveal that microscopically, they're in some sort of nematic phase.

I smell a grant application!


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:20 PM
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90, 91: Banana split refers to a process, not a food. That it has been vulgarized in popular culture shouldn't mislead.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:20 PM
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I smell a grant application!

But I don't do experiments. The best I could hope for is to write a paper called "AdS/Banana Splits".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:27 PM
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At my school there are two qualifying exams, algebra and analysis. They are each offered in September and March. If you don't pass both by spring of your second year you get kicked out.

I just finished my first year and have yet to pass the analysis exam. I doubt I'd make it at Heebie Grad U.


Posted by: Laine | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:27 PM
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We didn't have qualifying exams, but the role of those is played by the 'b./ p /hil', which is quite hard and used to have about a 20 - 30% failure rate. They've changed the rules to make it a bit less egregiously unfair these days, though. In the past it was possible to get stellar marks in 3 of the 4 sections, miss the passmark by a couple of % in the other section, and fail the entire 2 year degree with no option to resit or improve your mark. It's been changed to allow some chance to resit or otherwise improve a failing paper. The 'fail' mark is set at quite a high level, as, historically, it used to be the only qualification one would need to teach or work as philosophy fellow. Quite a few well known philosophers don't have doctorates, just the 'b./ p /hil'.

The exams consist of 6 essays, two on each of the three papers one has chosen for finals, and you have about 12 weeks to write them, if I recall, and then a 30,000 word dissertation.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:30 PM
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Why google proof a degree?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:36 PM
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||

Several people in my office are in the middle of an extended conversation about vowel sounds in the phrase "merry mary wants to marry". Because I don't know them and wouldn't begin to want to explain how I came across it, I am refraining from playing ttaM's sound file.

|>


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:39 PM
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I have never had a good experience with banana ice cream. Banana shakes, on the other hand? Delicious. Explain that, you people with your fancy degrees.

Simple. Most banana ice cream is made with banana flavor rather than real bananas.

Ice cream made with real bananas (not overripe) is delicious.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:39 PM
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Ice cream made with real bananas (not overripe) is delicious.

I'd completely forgotten about the ice cream maker we have. I may try that this weekend, thought I'll save banana for winter as the berries are still good.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:43 PM
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93: That would certainly have more merit than the ones I'm reading now.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:47 PM
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100: Most, but not all.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:49 PM
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I'd completely forgotten about the ice cream maker we have.

We have one of these

Fun, but a small payload. Good for keeping kids busy with the promise of ICE CREAM if the keep it in motion.


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:50 PM
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100: Are we assuming that banana shakes are made with vanilla ice cream and real bananas?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:51 PM
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100: Most, but not all.

Indeed, I happen to be lucky that there is superlative locally made ice cream in town.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 2:55 PM
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Some banana ice cream is made with heroin.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:03 PM
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I got so stressed out before my orals (combined with splitting up with a serious boyfriend) that I got hives.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:04 PM
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108: I'm picturing you shuttling back and forth between two rooms. First you answer a question about your field then you cross the hall to explain how it would be best for both of you to see other people.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:08 PM
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It isn't much of a hyperbole to say that it was more awful than that.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:09 PM
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I'm sure it was awful. But my way would have been more fun (for other people).


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:10 PM
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102 helpfully explains why Cosma is here today.
106: I go to a place that makes what I would describe as a superlative ice cream (organic, with ridiculous amounts of cream) and yet their banana was disappointing.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:13 PM
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It would be kind of like an Albert Brooks movie, except that it wouldn't have to suck so much.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:13 PM
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I'm not sure what selection would lead me to order banana flavored ice cream. I guess maybe if I were served it at someone's house.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:15 PM
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Hey Cosma, are you reading the Hunger Games trilogy? I haven't seen your tastes run to Young Adult books, but the Hunger Games (Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and soon-to-be released Mockingjay) are good action reads.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:16 PM
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This is the bit where we bond over shared trials of class, to recover from arguing about sex and race?

My school/field (ec0syztem sc!ence*) is so new and amorphous that we don't have core courses, let alone core exams. Less cramming, but also less certainty, and figuring out how to design an experiment/diss is probably not easier because of the amorphousness. (Differently hard.)

*Following ttaM's lead.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:16 PM
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For our qualifying exams, they only tested us on our ability to say No! In thunder.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:25 PM
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Walt clearly has a PhD in rocking out.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:35 PM
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If I'd studied harder, or been graded more fairly, I would have become a doctor, or a scientist of some sort.


Posted by: Albert Brooks | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 3:47 PM
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re: 98

Because it's only awarded in one institution, to a relatively small number of people, and there are a lot of odd/vindictive people about. Paranoid, but still....


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:12 PM
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and for the defense, Walt, you authenticate the uncreated conscience of your race?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:19 PM
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You think they'd be able to figure out who you are from your comments here?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:20 PM
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Or from just reading my name and cracking the sekrit encryption ...


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:21 PM
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It's pretty clear from his pseud that he's actually named Grant McMantat.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:23 PM
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Jesus, essear. Google-proof if you're going to go around naming people.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:27 PM
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Sorry, Me/gan.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:28 PM
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They got rid of the qualifying exam the year before I would have had to take it. I've always had some self-doubt due to this. On the other hand, I know lots of people who passed grueling quals, and then promptly forgot everything except their own specialty. Quals can make you learn, but they can't make you broad-minded.


Posted by: YK | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:30 PM
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Grant is really the person you should be apologizing to, but perhaps he isn't so worried.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:34 PM
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Luckily I changed my first name from Grant to Tang-R, by deed-poll. It's a cyberpunk thing.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:36 PM
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116: This is the bit where we bond over shared trials of class, to recover from arguing about sex and race?

Dude, we tried bonding over the shared trials of sandwich bars, but there was lackadaisical response. Everybody knew there was an elephant in the room with regard to yellow mustard (and someone might bring up honey mustard, you know) -- Stanley tried throwing a curve-ball with the sprouts, in an attempt to throw us off our game -- and, well, it all fell flat.

Are you new here?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:49 PM
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We had to get specified grades in five year-long courses, and do an hour-long talk with Q and A to a group of faculty which usually became your thesis committee.

It wasn't usually grueling but I knew of at least one guy who passed provided he get a new adviser. That same guy later left the school and went to another one (with his new adviser). Dunno if he finished there.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 4:55 PM
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Tang-R Ttam Ain't Nuttin Ta Fuck Wit
Tang-R Ttam Ain't Nuttin Ta Fuck Wit
Megan heavy weight aint shit when I'm in the room
Martial Arts, prepare for the boom
BAM! Aw, MAN! 'b./ p /hil in philosophy
JAM, now I'm your Sifu like Tweety

[


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:00 PM
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That was me.


Posted by: OPINIONATED RZA | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:01 PM
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112: I try to be more enthusiastic about writing my reports, but how's an honest, imperfect referee suppose to keep the attention of program officers with competition like this?

115: I am not reading them but I am going through a spell of reader's block (which is ridiculously considering how many unread novels I own) and will check them out.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:17 PM
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They're catchy. The final book in the trilogy comes out in late August. If you don't want to have to wait in suspense, you could read them all then.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:21 PM
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If memory serves, Joakim Garff's biography of Kierkegaard contains a memorable description of Kierkegaard's defense of his M.A. dissertation (i) in a large public lecture theater, (ii) against all comers, (iii) including his older brother, (iv) for longer than eight hours.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:26 PM
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120: Oops. We didn't know it was supposed to be unique.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:37 PM
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135: thanks! (And they're also audiobooks, even better.)


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:43 PM
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You'd rather listen? So slow...


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:48 PM
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139: You can set your iPod to recite audiobooks faster or slower. I usually just fast-forward through the tedious exposition in thrillers about the protagonists' ex-wives and/or drinking problem.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:49 PM
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139: Want to hear the rest of the story motivates me to go running every day. (It only works if I do actually want to hear the rest of the story.)


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:52 PM
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s/Want/Wanting


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 5:54 PM
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141: I second Megan that these are catchy tales. And that I can't tolerate the slowness of audiobooks.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 6:01 PM
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Audiobooks are perfect for painting a room. Or sorting paper.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 6:02 PM
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The rule of thumb for ice cream places is if their banana doesn't have the colour of dirty dishwater, move on. That doesn't guarantee that the banana will be great, but it should be at least decent and the same is true of their other flavours.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 6:05 PM
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145: Great. Now how do I stop my dishwasher during the clean cycle so I can see what the ice cream is supposed to look like?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 6:07 PM
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My household maintains 'the iPod of domesticity', full of Answer Me This and Quirks and Quarks and the Melvyn Bragg thingy, for doing the dishes and hanging out laundry.

I don't know about cold desserts based on the fruits of hot places. I'm more about the blueberry ice-cream, cherries, caramel, your general stone fruits that have chill hour requirements.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 6:20 PM
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I most certainly can relate to to:
Part of the new design states that students must pass one half by January of their first semester. This is the first modification that I wouldn't have been able to pass. I couldn't keep up with the courses very well, and definitely needed a full summer to re-work all the material on my own.

I got into my doctoral program from a loosely related master's program, and found that I pretty muchneeded to spend the entire first year and the following summer regrooving in order to be able to keep up. A bunch of other people needeed to do the same and didn't: some of them got through anyway but a bunch didn't. And my program was no where near so rigorous as to require qualifying exams in 3 subjects, which sounds like a total bitch. I k new there was a reason I've always thought of math majors as geniuses.


Posted by: Middle Aged Man | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 7:37 PM
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10 & 11

You mean dssertation? After regrooving I aced both my field and subfield exams and then got lost in the wilderness for years trying to do a dissertation proposal, which I finally got done and then flusghed a year and half later in order to do a 90% unrelated dissertaion. Which actualy came out pretty well. When I finally got done people asked me anbout celbrating. All i wanted do do was go in a dark room and shudder/retch violently for a week after years of stress that i wasn't going to make it.


Posted by: Middle Aged Man | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 7:43 PM
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And 20 years later it's still affecting my ability to type.


Posted by: Middle Aged Man | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 7:45 PM
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And to 17's "I don't have a fucking clue how to answer that" in her oral exam, I thinkthat's pretty common. In the review after my orals, during which I'd at one point said pretty much the same thing, the chair of the examining commitee said that they pretty much pushed everybody to that point in order for the committee to be able to tell what the person knew. And I think the pretty clear subtext was "and for the candidate to recognize all he/she doesn't know" on the theory that being entitled to call yourself an expert in one narrow things entails the obligation to remember al the shit where somebody else is the expert and when asked about those things, your response should be to stfu.


Posted by: Middle Aged Man | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 7:56 PM
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And learn like you know to edit "pretty" nomesane.


Posted by: Middle Aged Man | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 7:58 PM
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149.last: I felt pretty much the same!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:41 PM
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149.last: I felt pretty much the same!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:41 PM
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132:

Bring on the Haggis
Bring on the Mothafuckin' Haggis...


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:42 PM
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And 1.5 years later it still makes me click funny.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 8:43 PM
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My committee had decided I was way too smart to need to review how to take orals, so they refused to practice with me.

In theory (and official policy) my program required a pre-orals mock exam. I figured I would worry just as much about a fake exam as a real exam so I quietly just didn't schedule the fake one. It was supposed to be given by two of your four committee members and last about a little less than half the time as the real exam. I figured the only way anyone would know that I hadn't scheduled the pre-orals is if three of the four talked about it. Otherwise, one or two could just assume that the other faculty members were taking care of it. My adviser finally realized what had happened a couple of days before the exam when it was too late to do anything. When he asked if I wanted to do an even faker fake orals, I just kind of shrugged in a "what's the point?" way. We did individual or small group meetings with each faculty member, so they already had an idea if you were ready, content-wise just not if you were practiced, exam-taking-wise.

So when I went in for my exam I hadn't talked to one committee member in maybe five or six months and hadn't talked to another in about four. I was nervous and stressed out, but I did fine.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 9:55 PM
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22

The simpleminded Stefan-Boltzmannology gives an answer of ~280 K, which actually sounds pretty nice right now.

Actually the black body temperature is below freezing. Wikipedia says 254 K. This assumes an unchanged albedo of about .3.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-22-10 10:44 PM
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re: 137

That'd odd, I had no idea another degree with the same title existed. It's certainly unique in the UK. The Oxford one is a postgraduate degree, analogous to the taught section plus qualifying exams of a US doctorate, or an M.Phil at another British university, though. It's not a 'bachelor' degree in the usual sense.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 12:34 AM
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||

Any of the Nu Yoricans out there know anything about this place? Somebody we know vaguely has copped a freebie to it and was wondering if it was as good as it seems.

|>


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 2:13 AM
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Yep, Chris, that's a famously top-hole hotel and restaurant.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 2:15 AM
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I've never been there, but the restaurant is Joël Robuchon's, ffs. A fancy friend's parents always try to get reservations there for Big Deal Occasions, and I've used some of their recipes at home for Big Deal Occasions.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 2:17 AM
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And... a free what, I have to ask?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 2:18 AM
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Two nights, I believe. I don't know if they get dinner. It's an obscure deal connected to the international sporting bureaucracy.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 2:21 AM
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Jealous. Sounds excellent.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 2:24 AM
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Yes, the website makes it look fantastic, but you never know about the underlying reality with these places. I must admit, I'd never felt envious of the peons of the sports bureaucrats before.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 2:27 AM
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159 Specifically, it's equivalent to the other M Phils at Oxford, which used to be B Phils until some 70s moment of reform in which the philosophers refused to join. Bill Clinton failed to complete the B Phil in Politics, for example.


Posted by: Abelard | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 5:14 AM
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re: 167

Yeah, I should have mentioned that, that there used to be more of them.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 5:16 AM
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158 Actually the black body temperature is below freezing. Wikipedia says 254 K. This assumes an unchanged albedo of about .3.

True, I was neglecting the albedo correction, which after all is only a ~10% effect. At the same order, the fact that we have an atmosphere and a greenhouse effect matters, and roughly restores the answer to ~280 (IIRC, it overshoots somewhat, in the stupidest version of the model...)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 5:59 AM
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"I don't have a fucking clue how to answer that" in her oral exam

It was made pretty clear to me that even if I hadn't read a text, I should know enough about it to discuss it intelligently. So "actually, I didn't get around to reading that one" wasn't really an option for an answer. Which led to an uncomfortable 15 minutes of questions about Doktor Faustus. To this day, I don't know whether they were just fucking with me, or really didn't realize I hadn't read it and just thought I was an idiot. (You'd think the former, right? But the capacity of these people to assume my idiocy is pretty damned high.)

The most WTF?! question I got was "What do you think Hegel would say about the difference between theater and film?"


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 6:55 AM
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The most WTF?! question I got was "What do you think Hegel would say about the difference between theater and film?"

"'Grey's Anatomy' was a great opportunity, but I really think movies are where I can reach my full potential.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 6:58 AM
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Most wtf question I heard of was a prof/provost picking up a copy of (Grad U) annual report and asking, 'so Ms. x what do you think a professor in late Wilhelmine Germany would have made of this.' She fortunately resisted her instinctive response of 'well I don't know, why don't you tell me Herr Professor Doktor X) and stumbled through something. I had one 'I'm blanking' feeling during the orals on the sonland vs. fatherland distinction in Gombrowicz's Transatlantyk. But the committee had reassured me that one such non response is just fine and this was in my minor field.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 1:38 PM
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My "orals" were made up of questions concocted by each committee member and were a combination of a week's worth of written responses and then the actual oral grilling of about two hours.

I lucked out in that one member of the committee phrased his question in such a manner that a smart-ass response akin to "No, it isn't." made perfect sense. When he protested the chairman shut him down.

According to all reports, I appeared cool, calm, and collected. I don't remember any of it except noting that my heart rate was around 180 bpm just sitting there waiting for my cue to go in and perform. Fugue states are handy on occasion.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 3:51 PM
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I spent a good 5-10 minutes talking about an 800 page book I hadn't read. The author had participated in a forum in a journal in which he summarized the book in 15 paragraphs. I read those 15 paragraphs. Then, the day of the exam, as I was getting ready to go meet my committee, I read them again.

I stumbled through some other stuff I hadn't read later on, but at that point there was only about 5 minutes to go, so it was basically killing the clock. There was no way I was going to fail because of those 5 minutes.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-23-10 8:01 PM
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